Patterico's Pontifications

11/4/2009

Flying Imams Update

Filed under: Air Security,Law — DRJ @ 6:56 pm



[Guest post by DRJ]

The Minnesota case of the “flying imams” that involved a November 2006 USAirways flight has been settled. Powerline’s Scott W. Johnson tells us the facts:

“The six imams were detained as they were returning home from a convention of the North American Imams Federation in a suburb of Minneapolis. Three of the six had prayed before the passengers at the airport as they awaited the departure of the flight. A passenger had passed a note to the pilot pointing out suspicious activity:

6 suspicious Arabic men on plane, spaced out in their seats. All were together saying “  .  .  .  Allah  .  .  .  Allah” cursing U.S. involvement w/Saddam before flight–1 in front exit row, another in first row 1st class, another in 8D, another in 22D, two in 25 E&F.

Onboard USAirways personnel called MAC dispatch to advise that the six passengers would be removed and ask for officers to come to the gate. The first MAC officer on the scene was advised by a USAirways manager of the passenger’s note. He was also advised that some of the six passengers had checked no luggage, some had asked for seatbelt extensions, some had one-way tickets, and all six were of Middle Eastern descent. A USAirways flight attendant told one of the MAC officers that, in her opinion, the two seatbelt extensions requested by the imams were unnecessary given their sizes.

A MAC officer and a federal air marshal boarded the plane and interviewed the passenger who had written the note. In her decision the judge stated that after leaving the plane, the officers conferred and decided that the request for seatbelt extensions, the praying and utterances prior to boarding the plane, and the seating configuration amounted to suspicious behavior. They alerted the FBI and were requested to detain the imams for questioning.”

And the issue:

“The principal issue addressed by Montgomery’s decision is whether the law enforcement defendants were entitled to qualified immunity for their actions. This immunity protects government officials from monetary claims under circumstances where a reasonable officer would not know his conduct was illegal. Montgomery held that the flying imams were the subject of an unlawful arrest and that no reasonable law enforcement officer could have believed otherwise.”

And the decision:

“Quoting case law, [Judge] Montgomery stated that the relevant question in determining qualified immunity is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted. She held that no reasonably competent law enforcement officer could have believed that his conduct was legal in the imams’ case.”

Further investigation revealed the airline had seated the imams separately and they may not have been flying on one-way tickets, which left the bulk of the complaint a concern about their behavior and speech — especially since the Judge concluded requesting a seat belt extension was not suspicious by itself. (Johnson also points out that neither were boxcutters before 9/11 or shoes before Richard Reid.)

Johnson reasonably concludes Judge Montgomery effectively holds that authorities should have “release[d] the imams after a brief investigatory stop to go on their way and catch their flight or board another.” Thus, the Judge apparently expects air security officers to immediately ascertain facts that will exonerate suspects, even though it’s difficult to see how that’s realistic even in today’s computer world.

I have no doubt law enforcement officers will learn from this decision, and I agree with Johnson that citizens should learn from it, too: “The next time around, it will be the imams who fly and the other passengers who stay behind.”

— DRJ

25 Responses to “Flying Imams Update”

  1. “The next time around, it will be the imams who fly and the other passengers who stay behind.”

    That would only happen once, if at all, before the airline would just cancel the flight, and put the “imans” names on their internal “do not fly” list.

    AD - RtR/OS! (9e209a)

  2. “The next time around, it will be the imams who fly and the other passengers who stay behind.”

    Montgomery is a dunce, liberal P.C. piece of wasted excrement who should be immediately impeached. We’re so fing screwed!

    How could someone so incredibly stoopid be a fed judge??? Might as well appoint a gd chimp! Oh yeah, I almost forgot – we’re really screwed!

    J. Raymond Wright (e8d0ca)

  3. The headline should say “imams”, not “imans”.

    [Thanks, Joshua. I’ve fixed it. — DRJ]

    Joshua (4704bc)

  4. That would cause such a massive problem for the airlines I can’t imagine. The plane can’t leave if the passengers aren’t on their with their luggage, so just a couple of people bailing at the last second would really be a headache. Then there are the rules about doors and leaving once it’s been closed up.

    I can just imagine the complete mess that a person standing up at the last second and telling the stewardess they want off because they aren’t comfortable flying with a a guy they feel threatened by. Wow that’d be fun to witness if I had zero responsibility to fix.

    Allen (28f0eb)

  5. I once got off an Air California flight because there was so much confusion about seating. That was the early days of discount airlines and they had too many people aboard for the number of seats and a few other kind of worrisome glitches. My wife and I got off and took another flight. I would do it again with a scene like that one with the imams. No problems.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  6. Cops get things wrong, airlines get things wrong. Clearly, judges can get things wrong, too, especially when they are not the trier of fact.

    We’d have learned at trial if the two imams requesting seat belt extenders were big enough to need them. And whether they prayed prior to their inbound flight, without incident. A variable in any settlement is the involvement of the insurer.

    A passenger sent this note to the captain:

    “6 suspicious Arabic men on plane, spaced out in their seats. All were together, saying ‘. . . Allah . . . Allah,’ cursing U.S. involvement w/Saddam before flight—1 in front exit row, another in first row 1st class, another in 8D, another in 22D, two in 25 E&F.”

    Did the government drop the ball not charging the imams with creating a disturbance?

    steve (135d6a)

  7. I think that given the bureaucratic nature of things these days, it would be the other passengers who ended up on the No Fly list. Although they’d deny it, or cite some security reason to avoid admitting anything.

    Kevin Murphy (3c3db0)

  8. And at least one person thought this judge was smart enough and reasonable enough to be a judge? Some people are being disturbances and acting in very suspicious ways in highly charged times aboard what was recently used as an instrument of terror and it was the authorities who did something illegal??? You’ve got to be kidding me.

    And, I think, the passengers would have to leave a flight where the pilots and crew left, due to their own understanding of the risk of a clear and present danger.

    What if all the flight attendants, the navigator and the pilots all chose not to fly this flight and no replacements could be found to fly it? Would that be illegal too? Because that’s what it’s coming down to. Citizens acting out without concern for the (lack of) “protect and serve” due to idiot judges like this one.

    John Hitchcock (3fd153)

  9. I think every airplane seat should be equipped with a legshackle that is locked before the plane takes off and unlocked only when it’s at the gate of its destination.

    nk (df76d4)

  10. I think professional troublemakers and their lawyers should be hung from the nearest lamppost or flagpole.

    PCD (1d8b6d)

  11. If we hadn’t gotten scared of everything and anything over the last eight years, people like the Imams would be something we would laugh at.

    nk (df76d4)

  12. Or just kick the holey $hit out of!

    AD - RtR/OS! (0a796c)

  13. PCD #10,
    I heard that in the 60s about MLK and other civil rights activists in the South. I’m hearing it today from leftists about conservative “obstructionists”. I hope you will understand if I don’t join you in wishing that power to anyone in this country.

    Machinist (79b3ab)

  14. #11,
    If passengers with carry permits could carry on planes then we wouldn’t have to be concerned about box cutters, nail files, and Congressional Medals of Honor being used to hijack planes.

    Machinist (79b3ab)

  15. nk, the people have not become scared of everything – the bureaucrats have. Because they do not have to bear the burden of their ass covering overregulation.

    SPQR (6b1421)

  16. “the Judge apparently expects air security officers to immediately ascertain facts that will exonerate suspects, even though it’s difficult to see how that’s realistic even in today’s computer world.”

    I don’t think it’s apparent that the Judge expected them to “immediately” ascertain all the facts, just that some time before the 5 hour mark was reached it would have been reasonable to ascertain that “USAirways had assigned the seats taken by the imams and that they had not in fact purchased one-way tickets.”

    Does their behavior seem less suspicious once you’re aware of those facts? Or that one of the two imams requesting seatbelt extensions is blind? Is it “reasonable” to expect that level of fact finding to take over 5 hours?

    Bob Loblaw (370cef)

  17. I think it should only take 4 1/2 hours.

    How does being blind have relevence to a request for a seatbelt extension?

    JD (d787ac)

  18. How does being blind have relevence to a request for a seatbelt extension?

    Think about it for 2 seconds.

    a) I personally don’t find a blind man armed with a seatbelt extension to be all that potentially threatening

    b) I might even infer that a blind man might prefer to keep his seatbelt fastened for the entire flight, while still enjoying a certain amount of freedom of movement during the flight.

    But maybe I’m just not paranoid enough?

    Bob Loblaw (370cef)

  19. No, Bob. Your level of paranoia is quite sufficient.

    AD - RtR/OS! (0a796c)

  20. Blind muslim clerics are nothing to worry about.

    JD (26478a)

  21. Lynne Stewart could not be reached for comment.

    JD (26478a)

  22. RE: “Powerline’s Scott W. Johnson tells us the facts:…”

    How funny to see the words “Powerline” and “Facts” in the same sentence. They’re typically disparate strangers.

    Sorry to see Patterico has become little more than yet another iteration of Free Republic. Y’all enjoy your tea bagging, now. And don’t forget to give Mommy Bachmann a nice kiss goodnight.

    Buster (424744)

  23. Which “facts” are you disputing, buster?

    JD (8d300f)

  24. Buster wouldn’t know a fact if it crawled up his backside and ate his hemorroids, which would probably cost him on the IQ scale.

    AD - RtR/OS! (0a796c)

  25. Buster is a blast from the past, I suspect.

    JD (8d300f)


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