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TSA sued for injuring, jailing disabled teen

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File

(Read caption) Transportation Security Administration, TSA, employees screen passengers headed to their gates at Logan Airport. Security measures are being questioned after a lawsuit filed against the Memphis International Airport.

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The Transportation Security Administration faces a lawsuit from the family of a disabled 19-year-old woman following her rough treatment and arrest during a security screening last year at Memphis International Airport.

On June 30, 2015, Hannah Cohen and her mother, Shirley Cohen, were headed home to Chattanooga, Tenn., to celebrate the completion of a medical treatment, when Hannah set off the metal detector's alarm and was pulled aside for additional screening. According to the lawsuit, Hannah, whose disability limits her ability to "speak, walk, stand, see, hear, care for herself, learn and work, think, concentrate, and interact with others," became "disoriented and confused," at the warning alarm and the TSA personnel's response.

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“She was trying to get away from them, but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor.” Shirley Cohen told WREG-TV in an interview. The badly hurt and bruised Hannah was arrested on allegations that she hit an officer on the shoulder, chest, and face, and spent the night in jail, but the charges were dismissed, according to the lawsuit.

The suit against the TSA and the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority is for a “reasonable sum not exceeding $100,000 and costs” for “causing … physical and emotional injury as well as emotional injury” to Shirley Cohen.

The lawsuit alleges that officers and security agents discriminated based on Hannah Cohen’s ability. The TSA did not properly accommodate Cohen and her mother, the lawsuit states.

A new TSA training academy, opened this past February, might prepare future TSA agents to respond to passengers with special needs.

Traditional training, before the academy, consisted mostly of learning about different security scenarios from pictures. In the new facility, however, the trainers “get someone who is a little closer to being a finished performer when they show up” to work, TSA administrator and appointed head of the agency, Peter Neffenger told The Hill.

But training may not go into depth about responding sensitively to people with different needs. Officers go through a two-week course with “hands-on practicums” with real TSA equipment. Lessons on the TSA’s history and mission are also part of the training, but Mr. Neffenger did not note any instruction on human relations. After the agency failed security tests, security savvy and alertness has been a major priority.

A more balanced view of security, such as that which police departments are increasingly adopting, may make future searches smoother.

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