Remember the case of Seattle's Phil Mocek, the guy who tried to pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at the Albuquerque airport in November, 2009 without a valid ID? The 37-year-old software developer and political gadfly not only ended up missing his flight home, but was also slapped with a quartet of misdemeanor charges, all four of which were eventually dismissed in January after recordings proved that airport officials made false claims about Mocek's behavior during the incident. But Mocek's acquittal, it seems, isn't the end of his story. He's now planning to sue the City of Albuquerque, their Aviation Police, and, eventually, the TSA for alleged civil rights violations.
"I was wronged in this situation," says Mocek, who is also active with Seattle's Cannabis Defense Coalition. "And if what has happened puts me in a position of getting a court to take a look at what the TSA is doing and possibly force them to change the way they do things, it would be irresponsible of me not to do so."
Mocek has not technically filed suit just yet. His case is being handled by The First Amendment Project, a non-profit advocacy organization based in Oakland, and they have only taken the initial step of officially notifying the City of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Aviation Police that they intend to file suit under New Mexico law. (See embedded document below.) Mocek says the TSA will also eventually be hauled into court as well.
Here's how we explained what happened to Mocek back in January:
When Mocek attempted to record his conversation with the TSA checkpoint workers, they summoned both the Albuquerque police and the FBI. Mocek was eventually arrested and charged with four misdemeanors: trespassing, disorderly conduct, refusing to obey an officer, and concealing his identity...Using his cell phone, Mocek was able to record almost the entire encounter. (Though police told him at the time that he was not allowed to film, he'd actually received written permission to do so in advance from the airport.) Mocek says the inconsistencies between his recordings and the police statements were key to his victory.
...According to the TSA's website it's possible to pass through security without showing a photo ID. Passengers, the website says, "will have to provide information" that verifies their identity and then they "may be subject to additional screening."
When Mocek was pulled aside by TSA workers and questioned about his identity, police reports say he started, "causing a disturbance and yelling." They say he shouted, "'I know my rights!'" with a voice that was loud enough to cause other passengers "to hesitate before continuing through the checkpoint."
"If I had not documented what happened to me I almost certainly would've been convicted," Mocek says. "It proves that it's still unclear to people where you can and cannot perform photography. We need to keep reinforcing that we can and should document actions of public employees in public."
After his acquittal, Mocek was on the way back to Seattle via train (he's not too fond of flying anymore, for obvious reasons) when he stopped at the offices of the First Amendment Project. Emboldened by what he describes as "overwhelming support" from the public for his cause, he decided to pursue further legal action. Mocek is also seeking damages to help pay for his attorney's fees, which he says totaled more than $25,000. (He solicited donations leading up to the trial, and is still taking contributions on his personal website.)
The director of The First Amendment Project did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but Mocek says his case is being filed on behalf of, "anybody who supports standing up to TSA's increasing lawlessness."
Albuquerque's acting City Attorney, Stephanie Griffin, declined to comment except to say that the city's "risk management division has been notified and they're in process of investigating [Mocek's] claim."
Here's the letter sent to the City of Albuquerque by Mocek's attorneys, courtesy of The Identity Project, which has been keeping close tabs on Mocek's case since the very beginning:Phil Mocek vs. City of Albuquerque