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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
TAMPA - A federal appeals court Tuesday cleared the way for patdown searches of fans to resume at Tampa Bay Buccaneers home games when football season begins in August.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Valrico civics teacher Gordon Johnston forfeited his right to challenge the constitutionality of the patdowns outside Raymond James Stadium when he consented to them.
"Johnston knew that he would be subjected to a patdown search ... if he presented himself at an entrance to the stadium to be admitted to a Buccaneers game, " the opinion said. "That is, he chose to submit voluntarily to the search, stating only a verbal objection."
Johnston was searched outside three home games before a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge halted the practice in November 2005. The case later moved to federal court.
Johnston, 61, said he was disappointed and surprised by the decision.
"I almost feel like I was hit in the stomach, " he said. "I feel like, man, I know the Constitution. It just doesn't make any sense to me."
Johnston said he wants to weigh his options with his attorneys before deciding how to proceed. He could ask the panel to reconsider its decision. He can also request a review by the entire 11th Circuit, which is made up of 12 judges, or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But a lawyer for the Tampa Sports Authority, the government agency that runs the stadium, said the panel's decision lifts the ban on patdowns, at least for now.
"We're obviously pleased with the decision, " said Richard Zabak, the authority's attorney. "Now Buccaneers games will be like the rest of NFL stadiums."
Tampa is the only NFL city where the patdowns have been successfully challenged in court, although lawsuits also have been brought in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco.
In a prepared statement, the NFL voiced approval of the court's decision.
"Patdowns are an important part of our comprehensive security procedures, including secure facility perimeters and bag searches, " said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. "These limited, consensual security screenings are designed to enhance the protection and safety of our fans."
The NFL mandated the friskings at the beginning of the 2005 football season to guard against terrorists.
Johnston joined the American Civil Liberties Union in filing a suit in October 2005, saying the patdowns violate the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches and seizures.
After a state court and an appeals court sided with Johnston, the TSA asked to have the case transferred to federal court.
But U.S. District Judge James Whittemore also agreed with Johnston, saying the searches violated the constitutional rights of fans.
"A generalized fear of terrorism should not diminish the fundamental Fourth Amendment protection envisioned by our Founding Fathers, " Whittemore wrote in his July order upholding the state court decision barring the searches. "Our Constitution requires more."
John Goldsmith, co-counsel for Johnston, said the panel's ruling is very narrow and offers several avenues for appeal. For example, it doesn't preclude another disgruntled fan who didn't consent to the searches from stepping forward, he said.
Rebecca Steele, who also represented Johnston, said the panel's decision means people who submit to unfair treatment can't object to it later, a conclusion she called "chilling."
"It's sort of like telling Rosa Parks, 'You've been riding on the back of the bus for so many years, you can't do anything about it now, ' " Steele said.
Buccaneers officials referred a request for comments to the NFL.
As for Johnston, he said he's planning to take the next few weeks to reflect on the situation. He said he won't attend Bucs games if the patdowns return and doesn't relish the prospect of selling his season tickets, which he purchased for $869.20 in 2001.
"After the last few seasons they've had?" Johnston said. "I'll be lucky if I can give them away."
Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report. Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The suit now goes back to the U.S. District Court judge, who must reconsider his decision in light of the ruling that Gordon Johnston consented to the searches. Johnston and his attorneys can ask the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, the Tampa Sports Authority says patdowns will resume at Bucs games.