ACLU of Florida Challenges Pat-Down Searches at NFL Games

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
October 13, 2005 12:00 am

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Suspicionless Searches Make Fans Less Free But Not Any Safer, Says ACLU

TAMPA, FL — Acting on behalf of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers season ticket holder, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today filed a lawsuit seeking to stop officials from conducting suspicionless pat-down searches of all persons entering Raymond James Stadium to watch National Football League games.

“”Football fans should not be forced to surrender our constitutional rights as the price of admission to the stadium,”” said Gordon Johnston, a high school civics teacher and ordained minister. “”I am challenging these pat-down searches because I don’t like the idea of myself, my wife and my friends being touched without our consent.””

On September 13, the Tampa Sports Authority, which owns and operates the stadium, approved a policy imposed by the NFL requiring security personnel to physically pat-down every person entering the stadium during football games. But when Johnson had renewed his season tickets for 2005 – 2006, for a cost of $869.20, and received his packet of season ticket information, neither the renewal information nor the tickets informed him that he would be subject to a pat-down search when attending games.

Johnson contacted the Buccaneers to object, but was informed that the Buccaneers would not refund the cost of season tickets for him or other ticket holders who objected to the pat-down policy.

Johnson and the ACLU are asking the court to declare the pat-down policy in violation of the Florida Constitution.

“”There are far more effective ways to protect the security of football fans than sacrificing the constitutional freedom to be free from a pat-down search without probable cause or even any individualized suspicion,”” said Rebecca Harrison Steele, the ACLU’s West Florida Regional Director and a lead attorney in the case. “”The NFL’s suspicionless search policy will not make fans any safer, but it will make us all less free.””

The ACLU noted that Tampa Sports Authority officials have also raised concerns about the pat-down policy. Patrick Manteiga, the Chair of the Tampa Sports Authority, has publicly criticized the pat-down searches as being intrusive and providing a false sense of security. Furthermore, the ACLU said that a lawyer for the sports authority told officials before adopting the plan that the searches would be unlawful if imposed on season ticket holders without their consent, unless they were offered refunds of their tickets if they objected to the searches.

Earlier this month, the Cincinnati Bengals announced that they would not subject fans to the intrusive pat-downs as originally planned. The decision came after state officials questioned the legality of such searches.

The ACLU said that long-established constitutional principles hold that individuals retain the right to move about on public streets and thoroughfares freely and without police intrusions and that, as a general matter, police officers may not search individuals on sidewalks and thoroughfares in the absence of individualized suspicion.

Today’s case was filed in the Hillsborough County Circuit Court in Tampa. The Tampa Sports Authority and its Executive Director, Henry G. Saavedra, are named as defendants.

In addition to Steele, Johnston is being represented by ACLU Legal Director Randall Marshall and Tampa ACLU Cooperating Attorney John Goldsmith of the law firm of Trenam Kemker.

A copy of today’s complaint is available at:

The motion for a preliminary injunction is available at:

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