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Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Crash & Burn for Airport-Security Dissident

(CN) - A man who ended up in handcuffs after he tried to film airport security procedures does not have a case for retaliatory arrest, the 10th Circuit ruled.

"Order and security are of obvious importance at an airport security checkpoint," Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote for a three-judge panel. "As a result, conduct that is relatively benign elsewhere might work to disturb the peace at these locations. Many travelers are tense, no one enjoys the screening process, and people are in various states of disrobing and adjusting clothing without a modicum of privacy."

The 43-page decision opens by noting that Phillip Mocek makes a point of refusing to show photo identification while passing through airport security checkpoints.

When Mocek was traveling to Seattle from Albuquerque International Sunport in November 2009, he gave his driver's license to a travel companion before reaching the security podium.

The Transportation Security Administration policy offers "alternative procedures" for travelers who have misplaced their IDs, according to the ruling.

Having no photo ID and refusing to produce a credit card, Mocek found it odd when the TSA agent warned that he would not let Mocek through unless the Security Operations Center could verify his identity.

He began filming the encounter and persisted though the agent ordered him to stop. Eventually Mocek found himself surrounded by a swarm of agents and police. The order says Mocek remained calm but continued filming and refusing to identify himself.

As police prepared to escort Mocek out of the airport for ignoring TSA instructions, an officer demanded to see Mocek's ID, noting that the man was subject to a police investigation at this point for disturbing the peace.

After police arrested Mocek, his camera was confiscated and its footage deleted.

Using forensic software to recover the footage, which he also posted online, Mocek disproved disorderly-conduct charges and testimony from the police that he had been "yelling."

He was acquitted on all counts and filed suit under the First and Fourth Amendments.

U.S. District Judge James Browning tossed the total of Mocek's claims in 2013, and the 10th Circuit affirmed Tuesday.

In finding that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, the Denver-based federal appeals court said a "reasonable officer" could have believed Mocek violated state law by failing to show identification during an investigative stop.

It was not clearly established that Mocek could maintain a retaliatory-arrest claim for an arrest "arguably supported by probable cause," the 43-page ruling states.

Finding that Albuquerque airport is not a public forum, Judge Tymkovich said Mocek's filming was not protected speech.

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