Now Three Grandmas Say They Were Strip-Searched at JFK

Senior official: Strip searching old women 'makes us laughingstock.'

ByABC News
December 6, 2011, 12:03 PM

Dec. 6, 2011 — -- Two more elderly women with medical conditions have come forward claiming they were strip-searched by Transportation Security Administration [TSA] agents at JFK Airport on Nov. 29, bringing to three the number of senior passengers who allege they were forced to remove their clothes at the New York airport last Tuesday.

Ruth Sherman, 88, told ABC News she was about to board a 3:30 p.m. Jet Blue flight to Florida after visiting her family for Thanksgiving when two female TSA officers ordered her into a private room. The great-grandmother of seven has worn a colostomy bag since undergoing cancer surgery two years ago. She claims the agents noticed the bulge from the bag and that prompted the additional screening.

According to Sherman, the TSA agents told her to enter the screening room and demanded to know what the bulge was. Sherman said she was embarrassed and annoyed that even after she explained what it was they asked her to drop her jogging pants and show them.

"They were just two ordinary people, not medical technicians, not doctors, not nurses, what do they know about this?," said Sherman. "It was very degrading."

Sherman said she travels frequently to New York and San Francisco to visit family and had never before been forced to remove her clothing. She said she's made an appointment with her cancer surgeon in order to receive a traveling note that would exempt her from any further searches.

Linda Kallish, a 66-year-old diabetic, claims she too was strip-searched at JFK on Nov. 29. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Kallish, who was bound for Ft. Lauderdale via Jet Blue on a 1 p.m. flight, had a glucose monitor that checks her blood sugar every five minutes strapped to one leg and an insulin pump strapped to the other. A female TSA officer allegedly asked her into a private room after setting off the metal detector. Kallish says she was ordered to remove her pants in order to demonstrate both devices.

The women's claims come just days after Lenore Zimmerman alleged she was strip searched while trying to catch the 1 p.m. Jet Blue flight to Ft. Lauderdale.

Zimmerman said security whisked her away without explanation after she asked to forgo the full-body scan, fearing it might interfere with the heart defibrillator she was wearing. She told ABC News that she was asked to pull down her slacks and underwear with no explanation or apology. She missed her 1 p.m. flight to Ft. Lauderdale.

TSA did not immediately respond to ABC News requests for comments about the incidents. A TSA blog said that "TSA does not include strip searches in its protocols," and also said that Zimmerman was not strip searched. The TSA declined to answer a question from the Orlando Sentinel about whether there were instances when passengers were required to remove clothing.

Law enforcement officials confirmed to ABC News that the women were strip searched by TSA agents.

A senior law enforcement official who has worked at New York's JFK airport for years told ABC News that the incidents expose the security agency to mockery.

"Any law enforcement professional with any time experience would tell you that if you can't tell the difference between an 80-year-old with a health issue and someone who might need further screening, then this kind of behavior makes us the laughing stock of law enforcement worldwide," said the senior official. "These [passengers] were only guilty of buying a ticket."

The official also noted that if the person were in fact a threat, removing them to an area such as a "private room," would not mitigate the threat if it were a bomb.

"If this is what it has come to, the whole system needs to be redone," said the official, who has been involved in numerous significant airport arrests and emergencies.

Sherman says TSA has not apologized to her but says she isn't looking for an apology either.

"I just want to forget this happened, and I wanted to come forward because I want everyone who is going through any medical condition like mine to know their rights," said Sherman.

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