Portland airport stripper spends five hours in federal court for 15 of nudity

By Lynne Terry, The Oregonian Email the author | Follow on Twitter on May 14, 2013 at 6:49 PM, updated May 14, 2013 at 8:26 PM
A federal courtroom sprang to life Tuesday when legal teams, witnesses and members of the public and media spent nearly five

John Brennan was joyous last July when a Multnomah County Circuit

hours focused on 15

Court judge acquitted him of indecent exposure in his nude protest at PDX

minutes when John

International Airport.

Brennan took off

Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press

his clothes.

The 50-year-old Portland man was acquitted last year of indecent exposure in Multnomah County Circuit Court for disrobing during a security screening at Portland International Airport on April 17, 2012.

This time, he sat before an administrative law judge to fight a $1,000 fine from the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA, with an attorney from Seattle, called a Port of Portland police officer and four local TSA officials to

First up: Steven Van Gordon, a TSA officer at PDX with 10 years of experience under his belt.

Van Gordon recounted that Brennan opted out of a full body scan and so was patted down instead. Brennan, who had been quiet during the security check, suddenly started narrating what was happening to him.

“I thought it a little strange,” Van Gordon said.

But another twist was ahead. When Van Gordon tested his patdown gloves, an alarm went off, indicating explosives. He called a supervisor, who told Brennan that the test showed nitrates.

That’s when Brennan stripped. But other than that, he didn’t make a fuss, Van Gordon told Brennan’s attorney, Robert Callahan, under questioning.

“Did he ever shout at you?” Callahan asked.

“No,” Van Gordon replied.

“Use profanity?”

“Verbally abuse you?”

“Threaten you?”

“Did he ever attempt to stop the screening?”

“No, not until he took his clothes off,” Van Gordon said. “That is a disruptive activity.”

The TSA informed Brennan last August, a month after his acquittal, that he would be fined $1,000 for “interference with screening.” It said he had three options: pay the fine, resolve the matter informally or fight it in a hearing. Brennan chose the latter.

During a break, he said he’s fighting to fix a “broken system” so “we don’t turn into a fascist state.” He said he’s concerned about what he considers to be the unbridled authority of the TSA and Department of Homeland Security.

TSA officials testified that Brennan’s nudity disrupted the screening process. They closed three lanes at the checkpoint as passengers pulled out their cell phones, some snapping videos that went viral. TSA officials quickly pushed over carts stacked with gray tubs and surrounded Brennan to hide him from view.

“The process had stopped at that point,” Van Gordon said, “while he is in that state.”

A video captured by a security camera showed the confrontation lasted about 15 minutes.

A TSA manager, Jonathan David, testified that the agency worried that Brennan stripped to create a diversion for some sort of security breach.

“We had to stop the screening to deal with possible threats,” David said. But he acknowledged there were no threats that day.

Brennan’s attorney called only one witness: Brennan himself. Brennan said he always opts out of a full body scan and knows that means he’ll be patted down.

“Every time I go through security, I feel my constitutional rights are being violated,” he said.

He grew worried when an official told him the glove had tested positive for nitrates. “They used those in Oklahoma City. They think I’m carrying a bomb,” he said he thought at the time.

Then he let his clothes fall to his feet. He wanted to get the screening over and knew he had the right to protest in the nude, he said.

“What did you think would happen when you took off your clothes?” asked Susan Conn, TSA’s attorney.

“That I would be finished with the screening and could go to the gate,” Brennan replied.

“Did you think you would be allowed to go naked to the gate?” she asked.

“No,” Brennan said. He planned to put his clothes on

Judge George Jordan’s decision is at least a month away.

-- Lynne Terry


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