Mother found guilty in airport pat-down case
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A woman was found guilty Tuesday of disorderly conduct for berating security officers trying to pat down her teenage daughter and then refusing to submit to the procedure herself at a Tennessee airport.
Jurors deliberated four hours before convicting Andrea Abbott. She had faced up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine for her conduct in the July 2011 confrontation at Nashville International Airport, but the judge placed her on probation for a year because she has no criminal record.
Judge Joe P. Binkley Jr., warned the 42-year-old "to be certain you don't get into any further problems with the law."
Abbott didn't talk to reporters outside the courtroom. Her defense attorney, Brent Horst, said she was disappointed in the verdict, but felt she got a fair trial.
"She just wanted to stand on principle, because she felt that she had done nothing wrong," said Horst, who handled the case pro bono. "And I admire her for that."
The prosecution said Abbott's behavior "prevented others from carrying out their lawful activities," which is part of the definition of disorderly conduct under state law. Abbott testified during the first day of the trial on Monday that she was not unruly but did yell at officers. She said she was "irritated, but not arguing."
However, Assistant District Attorney Megan King said in closing arguments Tuesday that Abbott's behavior caused two security lanes to be halted and made a normally one-minute security check a 30-minute ordeal.
"The defendant should have been aware that her behavior would prevent others from carrying out their lawful activities," King said.
Horst said his client may have been loud, but she was only exercising her right to free speech.
"Telling a police officer your opinion, even in strong language, to me that's a First Amendment right," Horst told reporters.
According to an affidavit, Abbott first refused to allow her daughter - then 14 - to go through a body scan machine, saying she didn't want "someone to see our bodies naked."
Abbott and her daughter went through a metal detector and TSA Officer Karen King was sent to conduct a pat-down. King testified that before the pat-down, Abbott yelled in her face that she didn't want anyone "touching her daughter's crotch."
Abbott was accompanying her daughter to the gate but not flying herself. She eventually allowed her daughter to undergo the pat-down, but then refused one for herself. By that point, airport police officer Jeff Nolen had been called and he testified that he asked her several times to calm down, but she wouldn't.
"You're not putting your (expletive) hands on me, this is (expletive)," he recalled Abbott saying.
Nolen said he then arrested Abbott, who he said continued to curse and call officers pedophiles. Abbott had lived in Clarksville when she was charged and has since moved to Texas.
"She gave him no option," district attorney King said Tuesday. "She put him in that position with her behavior."
During her testimony, Abbott acknowledged that she did say a few curse words, but said she wasn't in anyone's face and had a "normal conversation" about what she believed to be inappropriate about the pat-downs.
Earlier Tuesday, Horst used a surveillance video of what happened to support his claim that Abbott was the one being yelled at and that she didn't create a distraction. The video, which didn't have audio, did show Nolen speaking to Abbott close up and making some hand motions. It also showed people walking around Abbott and the officers.
"It's clear from the video ... she wasn't preventing anything," Horst said.
However, district attorney King said the video "doesn't tell the complete story of this case," which she said "is not a free speech issue." She said the officers reminded Abbott several times that she could file a complaint if she had a problem with the security check proceedings.
"You can speak your mind, but you can't do it in an illegal manner," she said. "What the defendant did was a crime."
The case briefly drew national attention as hundreds offered Abbott support and donations amid debate over whether new, intrusive screening methods should be allowed at airports.
"Since 9/11, we're losing a lot of freedom, and we have to draw the line somewhere," Horst said in closing arguments.