Grand jury gets case of airport pat-down ruckus

October 13, 2011 - 5:10 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A lawyer for a Tennessee woman arrested after loudly refusing an airport pat-down for her 14-year-old daughter urged a judge Thursday to dismiss a charge of disorderly conduct, saying his client was only exercising her right to free speech.

Judge John Brown, after hearing accounts of Andrea Abbott's confrontation July 9 with Transportation Security Administration officers at the Nashville airport, decided to send the misdemeanor case to a grand jury for consideration.

The case briefly drew national attention as hundreds offered the woman support and donations amid debate over whether new, intrusive screening methods should be allowed at airports.

Airport Police Officer Jeff Nolen testified at Thursday's preliminary hearing in general sessions court that Abbott created a disturbance by cursing and calling TSA officers pedophiles.

Abbott first refused to allow her daughter to go through a body scan machine, saying she didn't want "someone to see our bodies naked," according to an affidavit by Transportation Security Officer Sabrina Birge.

Abbott and her daughter were then sent through a metal detector and Transportation Security Officer Karen King came over to conduct a pat-down.

King testified on Thursday that Abbott "started yelling, saying no one was going to grab her daughter's crotch. She kept repeating it over and over. She was quite loud."

King's supervisor, Linda Camp, then came over. She testified that Abbott continued her complaints, cursing and saying, "This is child abuse."

"She was very irate and obstinate," Camp said, noting the confrontation drew the attention of passengers and other screeners.

"I cannot allow that because, for all I know, she could be causing a diversion for someone in another lane," Camp said.

Abbott eventually allowed her daughter to undergo the pat-down. But when she was told that she, too, had to undergo the screening Abbott cursed and told officers, "I'm done with you people," Camp testified.

Camp said she took that statement as a refusal to be screened. Abbott was then arrested.

Defense attorney Brent Horst urged the judge on Thursday to drop the case. He said airport security video backs Abbott's version of events.

"She's standing there calmly, not being physically assertive," Horst said. "It's not disorderly conduct to be belligerent or loud."

Abbott testified she was confused by the screening process. She thought her daughter had been singled out for a pat-down but officers wouldn't tell her why, she said, adding she didn't want security officials touching her daughter's crotch.

Abbott was accompanying her daughter to the gate but not flying herself.

District Attorney General Antoinette Welch told the judge that Abbott's behavior disrupted "the lawful activities that protect the rest of us."

Abbott said after the hearing that she understands the need for airport security.

"I'm all for pat-downs. I'm all for protecting our country," she said. "I'm against someone touching my daughter's crotch."