A mother said a pat-down given by a TSA agent to her teenage son at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport left her son feeling "extremely violated," wondering what he did to deserve that kind of treatment.
In an interview with NBC Nightly News in San Diego Tuesday, Jennifer Williamson said her 13-year-old son, Aaron, "left the area and was upset for quite some time.”
Williamson said her son was detained for more than an hour Sunday morning at the airport while being screened at the security line as the family traveled to San Diego. The mother captured video of her son’s pat-down on her cellphone, posting the video to Facebook as she expressed her outrage over the incident.
In her social media post, Williamson said she had asked TSA to screen her son in “other ways” because he has sensory processing disorder, a condition that can make one sensitive to stimuli like sounds, lights, touch and textures.
"I asked the agent if there was some type of way we could conduct it in a different manner than patting him down. I was then told that we could either be patted down or we could be escorted out by the DFW Police," Williamson told NBC Nightly News.
The video shows a TSA agent telling Aaron about the screening process before the pat-down begins. The teenager nods as he stands with his legs and arms extended to his side. The agent proceeds to thoroughly touch the teen’s body, moving his hands onto Aaron’s shoulders and armpits, then down his back several times, down the sides of his upper body.
The TSA agent then checks all the way around the teen’s waistband, down his legs and the back of his shorts before touching in between the teen’s thighs. Aaron looks straight ahead. The agent walks to the boy’s front and pats him down for a second time before completing the screening.
Williamson said the pat-down was “horrifying” and left her son feeling confused, as if he’d done something to warrant it. She called it "extremely excessive."
“We’ve dealt with questions for several days now asking why that happened, and what he did wrong,” she told NBC Nightly News.
Aaron told NBC Nightly News that the pat-down did not feel right to him, but all he could think about was going on vacation with his family.
"Whenever this officer was touching me in certain areas, I was taught that nobody should touch you in that area," the teenager said. "And whenever someone's touching you like that you would think, 'Oh, Who is this person and why are they doing this?' And for all that reason I didn't want to make a big scene, because my Mom got asked, 'Be escorted out with the police or go to San Diego...' And I really wanted to go to San Diego and I wanted to go to Disneyland and all of that stuff."
In trying to make sense of the incident, Williamson said she's watched the video again.
"I noticed very quickly that my son was pat down in private and sensitive areas repeatedly," she added. "They did not go over those areas one time, they went over them four times. They opened the back of his pants... They opened the front of his pants. They grabbed his arms on either side and grabbed his legs on either side. I don't know what they thought would've been under his skin, but I didn't think that was appropriate, and especially after I had told them that sensory issues were a challenge for him."
In response to the high-profile incident, the TSA released this statement:
“TSA allows for a pat-down of a teenage passenger, and in this case, all approved procedures were followed to resolve an alarm of the passenger's laptop.
"The video shows a male TSA officer explaining the procedure to the passenger, who fully cooperates. Afterward, the TSA officer was instructed by his supervisor, who was observing, to complete the final step of the screening process.
"In total, the pat-down took approximately two minutes, and was observed by the mother and two police officers who were called to mitigate the concerns of the mother.
"The passengers were at the checkpoint for approximately 45 minutes, which included the time it took to discuss screening procedures with the mother and to screen three carry-on items that required further inspection.”
Williamson said Aaron “set off no alarms” prior to the pat-down, adding: “He physically did not alarm at all during the screening, he passed through the detector just fine.”
The mother said her family was “treated like dogs” and the incident caused them to miss their flight.
“These power tripping TSA agents who are traumatizing children and doing whatever they feel like without any cause, need to be reined in,” she added.
She said as Aaron's mother, the screening was difficult to watch.
"As a mother I think any mother that saw their child being handled in that way would feel uncomfortable. I think most of the people that have read and commented and been commenting on this situation, that have children, or are involved with children, felt exactly the same way," Williamson said. "It seemed like a gross violation for a child to have to go through."
Williamson said she wants an apology from TSA and for the supervisor in this case to be reprimanded.