Facebook fury follows video of son's 'horrifying' TSA pat-down

Commentary: More than 5.6 million people have already watched a video of a TSA agent performing what appears to be an extensive pat-down on a boy.

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

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Too much?

Jennifer Williamson/Facebook screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Jennifer Williamson is mad as hell, and so are tens of thousands of Facebook users.

Williamson and her 13-year-old son were going through security at the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport on Sunday when a scanner detected a laptop in his book bag. He was pulled aside for additional screening, CBS News reported.

According to her now-viral Facebook post and video, her son has sensory processing disorder, which makes him sensitive to touch. So she asked that the Transportation Security Administration to screen him in some alternative way.

Instead, what followed was something she describes as "horrifying."

The two-minute video, which has already been viewed by more than 6.7 million people and shared by more than 102,000, shows a TSA agent repeatedly patting down the boy's buttocks and reaching up between his legs. The boy is wearing only a T-shirt and shorts.

At one point, it seems like the agent is finished, but then goes back to repeat his pat-down motions on the boy's thighs.

Williamson said: "Let me make something else crystal clear. He set off NO alarms. He physically did not alarm at all during screening, he passed through the detector just fine."

She said that they also missed their flight because they were detained for more than an hour.

"Somehow these power tripping TSA agents who are traumatizing children and doing whatever they feel like without any cause, need to be reined in," she said in her post.

Williamson, who's from Grapevine, Texas, told me that she hasn't heard anything since from the TSA.

"My son would like to know what the reasoning was for a physical pat-down," she told me. "He passed the x-ray screening physically without alarm. In terms of the laptop, his laptop was left in his backpack while I was assisting my daughter who had her wheelchair and crutches taken from TSA for screening simultaneously and who I observed trying to hop down the length of the belt scanner."

However, a TSA spokeswoman told me: "TSA allows for a pat-down of a teenage passenger, and in this case, all approved procedures were followed to resolve an alarm of the passenger's laptop."

Williamson told me, however, that the agent who was manning the scanner took the laptop out of the bag, put it through a second time and pronounced it all clear.

The TSA disputes that Williamson and her son were detained for an hour.

"The passengers were at the checkpoint for approximately 35 minutes, which included the time it took to discuss screening procedures with the mother and to screen three carry-on items that required further inspection," the spokeswoman told me.

However, the TSA told CBS News earlier Tuesday that the family was at the security checkpoint for about 45 minutes.

The TSA said the pat-down took two minutes and that two police officers were called to witness how it was conducted "to mitigate the concerns of the mother."

It's unclear whether this was an example of the new enhanced pat-down procedures introduced earlier this month that replaced multiple methods with one standardized method.

What was clearer on Facebook was that the majority of the more than 56,000 who commented on the video are alarmed.

Typical was this from Connie Fayant: "That guy does look creepy. Kind of weird that he keeps going over the same places on a child!!"

And this from Sarah Elaine: "I would have lost my mind and ended up in jail! This is beyond disgusting! The airlines should be ashamed and these sad worthless piece of shit TSA agents should be fired immediately."

Not everyone, though, is on Williamson's side.

"Unfortunately, terrorist [sic] come in all shapes and sizes. It's for our safety and his. The boy should have been told by his parents FIRST. Security is only doing their job," mused Dawn Quintavalle.

With the increasing restrictions being placed on air travelers, including laptop and tablet restrictions on certain flights, perhaps extreme pat-downs are what anyone should randomly expect.

Indeed, late on Tuesday, the TSA released a blog post that explained precisely why, in its view, the pat-down of Williamson's son was strictly according to procedures.

The TSA claims in the post: "We get it. Nobody likes to be patted down. And nobody likes to see their loved ones patted down, especially children."

The TSA, though, believes pat-downs such as this are necessary.

"All of our procedures are based on current intelligence and our adversaries are always looking for ways to inflict harm, including recruiting young children to carry out attacks," it says.

This, to many, makes the video no less disturbing.

First published March 28 10:33 a.m. PT.
Update, March 29 at 10:30 a.m.: Adds comment from Williamson and new information from TSA.

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