On The Front Lines


Rutherford Institute Files Free Speech Lawsuit Over Student Arrested for Removing Shirt, Displaying 4th Amendment in Protest of Airport Scanners


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March 10, 2011

RICHMOND, VA--Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of a college student who was arrested for disorderly conduct after removing his shirt at Richmond International Airport (RIC) and exposing a portion of the Fourth Amendment written on his chest.

Aaron Tobey was en route to his grandfather's funeral on December 30, 2010, when he made his novel protest against the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) use of whole-body imaging scanners and enhanced pat downs. The lawsuit alleges that agents of the TSA and RIC police deprived Tobey of his rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The complaint also charges the named defendants with false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

The Rutherford Institute's complaint in Tobey v. Napolitano is available here.

"Aaron Tobey was arrested for exercising his right to free speech, which is clearly protected under the First Amendment," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "Tobey was unduly seized by government agents in violation of the Fourth Amendment, despite the fact that he did nothing to disrupt airport routine."

Aaron Tobey, an architecture student at the University of Cincinnati, was waiting in line to pass through screening at Richmond International Airport on December 30, 2010, when he removed his shirt to show that he had written on his chest part of the text of the Fourth Amendment ("The right of the people to be secure... against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated"), which protects the privacy of individuals by forbidding unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents.

Despite successfully passing through the screening, Aaron was arrested and handcuffed. Government agents from agencies including the Joint Task Force on Terrorism questioned Tobey for approximately 90 minutes before citing him for disorderly conduct. Tobey did not resist or interfere with security officials or the screening procedures and eventually was permitted to board his flight. Nonetheless, he was charged with disorderly conduct, a Class I misdemeanor under Virginia law, which carries penalties of up to $2,500 and 12 months in jail. The Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney eventually dropped the charges against Tobey after attorneys for The Rutherford Institute intervened.

In the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Institute attorneys allege that Tobey was arrested and held for questioning without sufficient cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Institute attorneys also argue that Tobey's First Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested because of the content and manner of his protest. Additionally, Institute attorneys charge that federal and state officials failed to adequately train law enforcement officers stationed at RIC, resulting in Tobey's unlawful arrest.