Strip-Searched Grandma Says TSA Removed Her Underwear

By Olivia Katrandjian

Dec 3, 2011 5:18pm

An 84-year-old New York grandmother says she was “mortified” after being strip-searched by TSA agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport last week.

Lenore Zimmerman of Long Island said she was on her way to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when security whisked her away to a private room without explanation after she asked to forgo the full-body scan, fearing it might interfere with her defibrillator.

“They took me into a private room and pulled down my slacks and pulled down my underwear” without explanation or apology, Zimmerman told ABC News.

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“I said, you know, I’ve been coming down for Florida for 10 years and I’ve always been patted down but I’ve never been strip-searched, why I am being strip-searched now? … They had no answer,” Zimmerman said.

When she tried to lift a lightweight walker off her lap, the metal bars banged against her leg, cutting her.

“I’m on a blood thinner and I bled like a pig so they called an ambulance and I said, ‘please don’t take me to the hospital, just bandage me up,’” she said.

The TSA called a medic, but the process took so long that Zimmerman missed her 1 p.m. flight and had to wait more than two hours to catch the next one, she said.

But the  TSA said no strip search was conducted and proper procedures were followed.

“While we regret that the passenger feels she had an unpleasant screening experience, TSA does not include strip searches as part of our security protocols and one was not conducted in this case,” the TSA said in a statement about the incident.

A review of closed circuit TV found that Zimmerman arrived at the ticket counter at 12:19 p.m. for her flight, which was scheduled for a 1 p.m. departure, but that actually left early 12:50 p.m.

The video showed her entering the checkpoint line in a wheelchair with her walker in her hand, according to the TSA. When she got to the screening equipment, she had a conversation with the TSA officer, and after a conversation she appeared to opt out of the advanced image technology screening equipment in favor of a pat-down, the TSA said.

When Zimmerman and two female officers left the private screening room, it appeared from the video that nothing unusual had happened, according to the TSA. The wheelchair attendant assisted her in leaving the checkpoint area for the gate.

But Zimmerman wants an apology.

“It’s humiliating, and it was ridiculous. I mean, I’m telling you I weigh 103 pounds, I was in a walker, I’m going to be 85 in February, only me this could happen to,” Zimmerman said. “I had my metal walker and my suitcase on my lap, I was in a wheelchair, and I look like, like a terrorist like the man in the moon.”

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