Elderly Woman Says She Was Strip Searched at JFK

TSA officials say there was no strip search

Monday, Dec 5, 2011  |  Updated 9:26 AM EDT
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Elderly Woman: I Was Strip Searched at JFK

NBC New York

Lenore Zimmerman

An 85-year-old woman said Saturday she was injured and humiliated when she was strip searched at an airport after she asked to be patted down instead of going through a body scanner, allegations that transportation officials denied.

Lenore Zimmerman said she was taken to a private room and made to take off her pants and other clothes after she asked to forgo the screening because she worried it would interfere with her defibrillator. She missed her flight and had to take another one 2 1/2 hours later, she said.

"I'm hunched over. I'm in a wheelchair. I weigh under 110 pounds," she said from her winter home at a seniors community in Coconut Creek, Fla. "Do I look like a terrorist?"

But the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement Saturday no strip search was conducted.

"While we regret that the passenger feels she had an unpleasant screening experience, TSA does not include strip searches as part of our security protocols and one was not conducted in this case," the statement read.

Zimmerman was dropped off by her son at Kennedy Airport for a 1 p.m. flight Tuesday to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on JetBlue, she said. She arrived to the ticket counter around 12:20 p.m. and headed for security in a wheelchair, her small, metal walker in her lap.

She's been traveling to Florida for at least a decade and has never had a problem being patted down until now, she said. "I worry about my heart, so I don't want to go through those things," she said, referring to the advanced image technology screening machines now in place at the airport.

As a result, she said, she was taken into the private screening room by a female agent and made to strip.

"Private screening was requested by the passenger, it was granted and lasted approximately 11 minutes," said TSA's statement. "TSA screening procedures are conducted in a manner designed to treat all passengers with dignity, respect and courtesy and that occurred in this instance."

The private screening was not recorded.

A review of closed-circuit television at the airport showed that proper procedures before and after the screening were followed, Jonathan Allen, a TSA spokesman, said.

Zimmerman, who spends half the year in Long Beach, N.Y., said she banged her shin during the process and it bled "like a pig," partly because she is on blood-thinning medication. She said an emergency medical technician patched her up, but she was told to see a doctor when she arrived in Florida to make sure the wound didn't get infected. There are no records indicating medical attention was called on her behalf.

"I don't know what triggered this. I don't know why they singled me out," she said.

Her son Bruce Zimmerman said he'd like to see someone fired and screeners re-trained after his mother's ordeal.

"My mother is a little old woman. She's not disruptive or uncooperative," he said Saturday. "I don't understand how this happened."

He said she's had an increasingly difficult time traveling, especially since her husband died a few years ago. She has two grandchildren, and her older son, a doctor, died in 2007.

Meanwhile, Lenore Zimmerman said she was healing, planned to go to the grocery store on Saturday and take it easy. The weather was about 76 degrees and sunny, and she's not headed back to an airport until April when she returns to New York.

"Thank goodness," she said. "It will give me some time to brace myself for the return flight."

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