Comparing TSA to Nazi Party gets flier a hands-on response

Published February 6, 2008

The federal agency charged with keeping dangerous stuff and bad people off airliners invited rants and suggestions from travelers last Wednesday on a new blog .

But as Darron Derrick discovered one day later at Tampa International, the Transportation Security Administration is uninterested and ill-equipped to deal with criticism at the airport.

The 39-year-old engineer from Tampa is smarting over a run-in with officers. And still waiting for an apology for being cussed out by a checkpoint supervisor and subjected to extra screening that made him miss his flight.

Fat chance, says the TSA. Derrick complained about getting his laptop screened a second time, saying he shouldn't be treated like a terrorist. But his problems really started when he compared the TSA to the Nazi Party.

There's a lot of he-said, she-said in the stories. This much everyone pretty much agrees happened.

Derrick was very late for his flight to Detroit. He checked in 38 minutes before the scheduled departure and found a long, snaking line to the security checkpoint at Airside A. Derrick asked a line attendant if he could move ahead of others. She ignored him.

At the X-ray machine, he placed his laptop inside its case on the belt and went through the metal detector. An officer informed him the computer and case had to go through again separately. That's when Derrick, frustrated and anxious, made his unfortunate vent.

He says that after explaining it wasn't personal, he told the supervisor that screeners were going to make him late for the plane by using "Nazi-style, police-state tactics."

The supervisor, a Florida National Guard member and Iraq war vet, blew up. "I don't have to listen to your s---- and being called a Nazi," he said, according to a TSA report dated Tuesday. Derrick says he asked for his supervisor, only to be told he was talking to the supervisor.

Two officers detailed to watch for suspicious behavior decided Derrick was a "heightened concern individual," said TSA spokesman Christopher White. They directed him to additional screening, a body pat-down and a scan with a hand-held metal detector.

Derrick refused to give his telephone number. He didn't agree to have the pat-down in a private room, noting the case of a woman who died while detained at the Phoenix airport. The supervisor had airport police escort Derrick from the terminal.

The TSA report concluded that Derrick's "frustration made him a victim of himself" and stated officers followed all procedures. The supervisor will receive "corrective action" for using profanity, said White.

Derrick contends the Nazi comment was free speech and the TSA officers put him through additional screening as retaliation.

"I didn't go in there and yell 'terrorist.' It's the system. Everyone's treated like a criminal," he says. "It's dehumanizing."

His isn't exactly mainstream opinion. But an Associated Press poll released in December found that only the Federal Emergency Management Agency, stained by its response to Hurricane Katrina, ranked below the TSA as the least-liked federal agency.

TSA tied the IRS in a ranking of a dozen federal agencies, though 53 percent of air travelers said the agency does a "very" or "somewhat" good job.

Staff writer Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.