TSA Sued for Assault of Disabled Cancer Patient

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UPDATED: Jul 22, 2016

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Written By: Jeffrey JohnsonUPDATED: Jul 22, 2016Fact Checked

TSA hard at workThe family of Hannah Cohen, a disabled cancer patient, is suing the Transportation Security Administration, Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority, and the Memphis International Airport Police Department after TSA agents allegedly assaulted her at the Memphis Airport.

Mother Says Daughter Assaulted and Humiliated

Hannah Cohen, 19, is physically and mentally impaired from radiation and the removal of a brain tumor and is limited in her ability to walk, talk, stand, see, and hear. She was on her way home to Chattanooga, Tennessee from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis when the incident occurred.

The lawsuit claims that an alarm went off when Hannah was going through the security checkpoint. Hannah attributed the alarm to the sequins on her shirt. The TSA agents told Hannah they need to take her to a sterile area for additional screening. Hannah offered to take off her sequined shirt because she was wearing another underneath, but the agent laughed at her. 

Hannah’s mother, Shirley Cohen, says she tried to explain to the agents that her daughter was a St. Jude’s patient and can get easily confused, but they kept her away from her daughter. An announcement was made over the public address system requesting more agents to come to the checkpoint. Armed guards arrived and Hannah was startled when the guards grabbed her, so she attempted to get away.

Shirley recounted, “[s]he’s trying to get away from them but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor. There was blood everywhere.” When Shirley Cohen’s phone came out of the security conveyer belt, she photographed Hannah’s bloodied face.

Hannah Cohen was arrested and had to spend the night in jail. The judge who saw Hannah’s injuries the following day threw out the charges and refunded the family’s $250 court fees. The judge then recommended that the family retain legal representation.

Hannah’s Lawsuit Against the TSA

The lawsuit alleges that TSA intentionally discriminated against Hannah because of her disability and did not provide her with adequate accommodation to screen her. The lawsuit argues that the defendants are liable for causing Hannah and Shirley emotional distress. The Cohens seek monetary damages for medical expenses, personal injury, emotional injury, pain and suffering, and embarrassment. Plaintiffs are also seeking punitive damages.

The president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, Scott Brockman has stated, “[c]learly there are additional facts in this matter, and we won’t comment until we address the litigation.”

Mark Howell, spokesman for the TSA, and Jerry Brandon, chief of public safety of the Memphis International Airport Police Department, were unable to comment on pending litigation.

TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz released the statement, “Passengers can call ahead of time to learn more about the screening process for their particular needs or medical situation.”

The suit was filed in United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee and is pending as Case No. 2:16-cv-02529. The Cohen family is being represented by Kelly Pearson and William Hardwick of Memphis, Tennessee. 

(Photo Credit) By U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (Thank you TSA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
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