LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California appeals court has ruled that a state law prohibiting false bomb reports gave airport police probable cause to arrest a former prosecutor who sarcastically told employees of United Airlines that she had a bomb in her luggage.
Running late for her connecting flight to Port Hardy, Barbara A. Levin tried to check her bag of SCUBA gear at the gate at the Los Angeles International Airport. But because the dive bag would not fit through the airport security x-ray machine, she walked through the metal detector with it, opened it and told screener Ralph Lopez, “Look, no bomb. No gun. No knife. I’m going to the gate.” She then left the dive bag and her purse, and took only a bag containing her underwater camera gear to the gate, where she discovered that the plane was already full.
As she headed back to the screening area to collect her things, Lopez chided, “You shouldn’t have gone to the gate.”
Levin replied that she had done everything she could to get her bags checked, even opening one of them.
“That could have been a diversionary tactic,” Lopez said.
Plaintiff threw up her hands, rolled her eyes and said, “Yeah, right. It’s a bomb.”
Levin was promptly escorted from the screening area and reprimanded by a United supervisor. During their exchange, Levin made another sarcastic bomb remark.
Levin was arrested, handcuffed and placed in a detention cell at the airport police station. She was later transferred to a women’s prison, where she was strip-searched and kept from late afternoon until 11 p.m.
Levin, a former prosecutor in Illinois, filed a complaint against the airline, the city and various airport personnel claiming civil rights violations. A jury ruled against her on all nine causes of action, and a trial court ordered her to pay $35,000.
The appeals court affirmed, finding that the penal code is triggered by a “report that a bomb has been placed or secreted – nothing more.” It does not matter why the person made the report, the court ruled, only that a false report was made. See ruling.