Lawsuit: TSA Officer Punitively Fabricated Terror Charges Against Man Who Asked to File Complaint

Attorney Thomas Malone recently filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of marathon-running Philadelphia architect Roger Vanderklok, who claims that TSA supervisor Charles Kieser falsified terror charges against him when Vanderklok asked to file a complaint after TSA agents took approximately 30 minutes of his time trying to determine whether his watch and prepackaged PowerBar protein bars were explosives. New York Daily News notes that, after Vanderklok asked for a form to file a complaint, he was thrown in a holding cell and subsequently arrested on charges of making terroristic threats and threatening the placement of a bomb. Municipal Judge Felice Stack, who was assigned to Vanderklok’s case, swiftly acquitted him of the charges. Now, Vanderklok is suing, claiming his civil liberties were infringed upon, and Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky is calling for TSA supervisor Charles Kieser to be fired.

At around 8 AM on January 26, 2013, Roger Vanderklok passed through a TSA checkpoint at the Philadelphia International Airport while traveling to race in a half-marathon. His carry-on bag contained a watch with heart-monitoring capabilities, a standard tool used by fitness enthusiasts, and prepackaged protein bars. TSA officers at the checkpoint asked Vanderklok if his bag contained organic matter, and he said that it did not, as he did not realize that the TSA categorizes his processed protein bars as such. Consequently, the agents assumed that he was lying and spent the next half-hour analyzing his protein bars and heart-monitoring watch for explosives. After no explosives were found, Vanderklok asked Charles Kieser to provide him with a complaint form, as he felt TSA agents should have better informed him of their definition of organic matter. Instead, Kieser accused Vanderklok of threatening to blow up the airport and had him arrested by Philadelphia police.

Vanderklok missed his flight and remained in jail until around 4 AM the next day when his wife made arrangements to cover his $40,000 bail. “I was scared to death. I have never been arrested in my life, never had handcuffs put on. Throughout the night, I was in a dark place; no one knew where I was. I thought, ‘I could fall off the face of the earth right now, and no one would know it,'” said Vanderklok in comments to Philadelphia Daily News.

Kieser claimed in court that Vanderklok said, “Let me tell you something. I’ll bring a bomb through here any day I want.” The incident report by Philadelphia police says that Vanderklok said, “Anybody could bring a bomb in here and nobody would know.” Vanderklok maintains that he said neither, and surveillance footage of the incident seems to match his claims, as TSA agents never attempted to summon the FBI and continued calmly carrying out their duties as Vanderklok patiently waited for a complaint form.

Vanderklok’s attorney Thomas Malone told Philadelphia Daily News, “The police at the airport never even questioned Mr. Vanderklok. They just detained him. The detectives at the 18th [District] also never spoke with him. He was charged based on a single allegation by one TSA employee.”

Vanderklok and Malone are seeking unspecified damages in their suit against the TSA, the DHS, and the Philadelphia Police Department. Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky wrote, “It’s unbelievable that [TSA supervisor Charles Kieser] still has his job,” noting allegations that “he swore under oath to things that were not true” in an effort to put an innocent man behind bars.