Police in Colorado are investigating allegations that a Transportation Security Administration official sexually assaulted a woman during a routine pat-down at Denver International Airport last month.
Jamelyn Steenhoek, 39, tells the New York Daily News that she became “filled with a lot of fear” during a 25-minute ordeal that allegedly happened one day after Christmas.
Steenhoek was not scheduled to fly that day, but was rather accompanying her 13-year-old daughter to a departure gate at the airport and was subjected to the same TSA pat-down that all travelers are forced to endure. She says her security screening was a bit more thorough, though, and that the TSA agents involved should be charged with assault because of it.
Speaking to a Denver CBS News affiliate, Steenhoek recalled that things started to go sour after she set off an alarm at the security checkpoint. She said it could have been the jewels sewn into the pockets of her jeans that caused concern, but before long she was undergoing other examinations and ultimately tested positive for traces of explosives.
According to the Colorado woman, the explosives test might have come back the way it did because she had earlier that day been pumping gas into her car. TSA agents asked her to undergo further screening, however, and that’s when she said things quickly escalated.
After being ushered to another room, Steenhoek said she was subjected to what she calls “a pretty invasive search.”
“They are just areas of the body I’m not comfortable being touched in,” she told the network.
“On the outside of my pants she cupped my crotch. I was uncomfortable with that,” she said. Then, according to her, the agent repeatedly dug her fingers deep into her armpits.
“The part of the search that bothered most was the breast search,” she recalled. “You could tell it shouldn’t take that much groping. To me it was as extensive as an exam from my physician — full touching and grabbing in the front. I felt uncomfortable, I felt violated.”
Steenhoek was ultimately released without further incident, but days later she went to a local police station to file a report.
“I was looking for consequences, for TSA to be accountable for what they do to people,” Steenhoek told CBS4.
When asked if she thinks the agents should be charged with sexual assault, she replied in the affirmative.
“I feel like someone who works for a powerful agency that we are afraid of used their power to violate me sexually — to put me in my place,” she told the station.
Now Denver police are in the midst of an active investigation and have vowed to take this allegation, like all others, quite seriously. But while the TSA won’t comment on any specific incidents under investigation, the agency has released a statement that for now suggest they stand by their employee’s actions.
“TSA’s security officers are trained to perform each pat down in a professional manner to ensure that all individuals are screened to the same standards. Complaints about pat-down procedures are thoroughly investigated, and the agency takes appropriate action, if warranted. The agency cannot comment on an ongoing law enforcement investigation, but is confident the facts will support our officer’s adherence to proper pat-down procedures,” TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said in a statement.