Pilot acted in 'best interest' in removing agent
Secret Service agent alleges he was victim of racial profiling
By Jeanne Meserve and Mike Ahlers
A pilot who removed an Arab-American Secret Service agent from his plane Christmas Day says in an internal airline report that he "acted in the best interest" of his crew, and that he intends to file a complaint against the agent for misconduct.
The Secret Service agent has alleged the removal was a case of racial profiling. He has retained an attorney, who told CNN Wednesday that the agent will decide how to proceed soon.
The incident occurred on an American Airlines jet at Baltimore-Washington International Airport as the agent was leaving for Texas, where he was to work protecting President Bush on Christmas vacation.
The passenger sitting next to the agent, whose name has not been released, has come forward to support him. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says it received an e-mail from the agent's seatmate saying that the actions of the flight crew amounted to "blatant profiling."
CAIR quotes the passenger as saying, "He was kicked off the plane because of his race."
According to CAIR, the agent's seatmate watched a flight attendant search the agent's jacket after he was pulled off the plane. When she found a book on Middle Eastern history, she indicated she was not comfortable with the presence of the agent on the flight.
In an internal report obtained by CNN, the pilot said he that he "acted in the best interest" of his crew. He intends to file a complaint against the agent for misconduct, the pilot said.
In the report, the pilot said the incident began when a flight attendant said she and other flight attendants were concerned about the actions of a passenger. The passenger had left the aircraft while leaving a carry-on bag still in his seat, telling flight attendants not to leave without him.
While the passenger was away, the flight attendants "observed books in the individuals (sic) seat which were written in what she assessed was Arabic style print," the pilot wrote.
When the passenger returned, the pilot decided to review the paperwork required by law enforcement officials who carry weapons onto planes.
"The form was unreadable because it was a carbon-copy and there were missing items," the pilot said. "I then had the agent come back and re-check his credentials" and fill out a new form, the pilot said, but the new form was "filled out improperly."
The passenger "appeared nervous and anxious," the pilot said.
The pilot said that as he tried to verify the Secret Service agent's credentials, the agent "became very hostile."
"In the interim, I was given a third improperly filled out (form). This had no signature of the (law enforcement officer), no phone number."
The pilot defended his actions. "I absolutely felt correct in having this individual's identification validated," he wrote. "After three improper (forms) and the behavior of this individual, I needed to be 100 (percent) sure of his credentials."
An American Airlines operations manager, writing in a separate report, said the agent admitted not properly filling out the paperwork.
The ethnicity of the agent had nothing to do with the incident, a spokesman for the airline said. American Airlines CEO Donald Carty issued a document to all employees on September 12, one day after the terrorist attacks, urging them to treat Middle Eastern passengers and employees with respect, the spokesman said.
The attorney for the agent, Christy Lopez, said Wednesday night the agent was "not happy he was being ejected from a flight" for what he believed to be racially discriminatory reasons, but that he "never did anything that could be construed as causing a legitimate security concern."
The agent does not read or write Arabic, and that the book found in the seat was not written in Arabic, Lopez said.
The Secret Service is investigating the incident. Bush told reporters he would be "madder than heck" racial profiling was a factor in the agent's removal from the flight.
The Washington law firm that the agent has retained is also representing three other individuals who allege that they were removed from airline flights since September 11 because of racial profiling.
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