ACLU Files Racial Profiling Lawsuit Against Transportation Security Administration

April 14, 2003 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Pennsylvania
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for civil rights violations stemming from the wrongful arrest of a Florida doctor and former Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves who was detained for hours solely on the basis of his skin color and national origin.

“It is abundantly clear that our client was subjected to the worst kind of race profiling,” said Stefan Presser, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which filed the lawsuit in federal court here. “Our hope is that this lawsuit serves as a wake-up call concerning the inadequate training of those to whom the federal government has entrusted air passenger safety.”

The lawsuit seeks damages and other sanctions on behalf of Dr. Bob Rajcoomar and his wife Dorothy, who live in Florida. Dr. Rajcoomar became a victim of racial profiling last August after a flight on which air marshals subdued an unruly passenger and held other passengers at gunpoint for 30 minutes. He was arrested and detained for four tense hours after his plane landed at Philadelphia International Airport.

In September, the ACLU sent a letter to the TSA urging federal officials to investigate the reckless actions of air marshals and to take steps to improve air marshal training or otherwise safeguard the public. The ACLU filed the lawsuit today after receiving no response from the government.

“Here we have yet another example of racial profiling that hampered rather than helped security,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida, which joined in the lawsuit. “In total disregard for the safety and well-being of passengers, air marshals terrorized everyone on the plane and then singled out Dr. Rajcoomar because of his skin color. His detention had nothing to do with security and everything to do with blatant discrimination.”

Dr. Rajcoomar’s disturbing ordeal began shortly after take-off during a flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia on August 31, 2002, when U.S. Air Marshals were called to subdue an apparently disoriented man seated in the coach section. The air marshals rushed the unstable individual, handcuffed him, and then dragged him to the first class section, where they placed him in the seat next to Dr. Rajcoomar, a U.S. citizen and physician of Indian descent. Dr. Rajcoomar asked to have his seat changed and the flight attendant obliged. For the remainder of the flight, air marshals held passengers at gunpoint and refused to allow anyone to get up, even to use the bathroom, despite the fact that the disoriented passenger had been shackled to his seat.

While all of the passengers were terrified, the nightmare continued for Dr. Rajcoomar after the flight landed. Air marshals handcuffed Dr. Rajcoomar without explanation and took him into the custody of Philadelphia police. His wife Dorothy, who was also on the flight, was given no information on what had happened to her husband, and because the authorities had confiscated Dr. Rajcoomar’s cellular phone, she had no way to contact him.

After four tense hours in detention, Dr. Rajcoomar was released. TSA personnel told him that he had been detained because air marshals on board the flight did not “like the way he looked.” The agency’s official explanation for Dr. Rajcoomar’s treatment is that while on board, Dr. Rajcoomar “had been observing [the actions of the air marshals] too closely.”

“A man should not be prejudged by his appearance or the color of his skin,” said Dr. Rajcoomar.

“Rather, he should be respected and judged by his moral character, deeds and gifts to humanity.”

In addition to Presser, the attorneys litigating this case are: James Green of West Palm Beach, Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida, Seth Kreimer of Philadelphia, and Reginald Shuford of the national ACLU in New York.

The case is Dr. Bob Rajcoomar and Dorothy Rajcoomar v. U.S., et al.

The ACLU complaint in the case is online at /node/35417

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The latest in National Security

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About National Security

National Security issue image

The ACLU’s National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.