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TSA Backtracks, Says Screeners Were Wrong Searching Elderly Women

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents screen passengers at Los Angeles International Airport.
Kevork Djansezian
Getty Images
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents screen passengers at Los Angeles International Airport.

The Transportation Security Administration now says security screeners at Kennedy Airport in New York were wrong when they asked two elderly women to show them medical devices that were under their clothing.

In a letter sent to state Sen. Michael Gianaris and acquired by the New York Daily News, the Department of Homeland Security said that there was no evidence the two women were strip-searched, as they claimed, but that their agents did go further than they should have.

As the AP reports, the TSA was criticized back in November when Lenore Zimmerman, 85, and Ruth Sherman, 88, complained that they were made to strip, and Sherman was made to show her colostomy bag and Zimmerman was made to remove her back brace as they made their way through airport security.

At the time, the TSA said it acted according to protocol.

But the the Daily Newsreports that in the letter, Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Betsy Markey apologizes:

"It is not standard operating procedure for colostomy devices to be visually inspected, and [the TSA] apologizes for this employee's action," Markey wrote.

The letter says that Sherman, who uses a wheelchair, was escorted into a private area after she voluntarily lowered her pants to show screeners the device. In the private room, she was patted down and told to show agents the colostomy bag, the letter says. Markey still maintained that the Florida-based Sherman was never asked to remove her clothing.

"They asked me to pull my sweatpants down, and now they're not telling you the truth," Sherman fumed Monday.

Markey also apologized for the way in which employees handled Zimmerman's case.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.