WASHINGTON (CN) – A director of a political group claims the Transportation Security Administration arrested and interrogated him illegally at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport because he was carrying $4,700 for the Campaign for Liberty. Steven Bierfeldt claims the TSA subjects travelers to unconstitutional searches and detentions.
In his federal complaint, Bierfeldt TSA officials interrogated him about a metal box containing cash that he passed through the X-ray machine. The $4,700 was earmarked for the Campaign for Liberty.
Bierfeldt claims a TSA official took the money box and told him to follow the agent into a small room near the screening area, where a second agent was stationed.
Bierfeldt says he was subjected to “harassing questions” about the money and his occupation. He says he responded by “politely asking the agents to explain the scope of their authority,” and whether he was legally obligated to answer.
Their tone became more threatening and they called two armed St. Louis police officers into the room, Bierfeldt says.
Bierfeldt made an audio recording of the nearly half-hour interrogation on his iPhone.
He claims the agents told him it was “suspicious” that he wouldn’t tell them where the money came from, and that if he didn’t answer they would take him to the local DEA office. They also threatened to get the FBI involved.
While the agents were leading him through the concourse on their way “to the station” they were summoned back to the interrogation room by a plainclothes agent, who did not identify which agency he represented, according to the complaint
That agent acknowledged that the money was legitimate and told Bierfeldt he was free to go. But the lead TSA agent insisted that Bierfeldt was a “suspicious person,” and contacted his supervisor for approval before he would let him board his flight.
Bierfeldt claims his experience is not an anomaly but a widespread practice, if not formal policy. He claims the TSA is trying to “enlarge its authority.”
“TSA now operates on the belief that airport screening provides a convenient opportunity to fish for evidence of criminal conduct far removed from the agency’s mandate of ensuring flight safety,” the complaint states.
TSA’s general counsel stated that it’s standard practice for agents to “ask a passenger who is carrying a large sum of cash to account for the money,” according to the complaint, and that the agency believes its mission includes “detecting signs of criminal activity,” and determining whether to refer it to law-enforcement authorities.
Bierfeldt, the Campaign for Liberty’s director of development, says he’s particularly at risk because he frequently travels the county with large sums of campaign cash.
He claims that TSA agents “have received no policy, protocol or training to limit their search authority to detecting weapons or explosives.”
He demands damages for civil rights violations from the Department of Homeland Security and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Bierfeldt is represented by Alan Gura with Gura & Possessky in Alexandria, Va., and the ACLU.