Nadine Kay Hays, of Camarillo, who was traveling to Nashville, Tenn., last year with her 93-year-old mother, was charged with battery after the tussle with Transportation Security Administration officials. She assumed her legal troubles were over when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Fred Rotenberg last month agreed to dismiss the case against her if she stayed out of trouble for the next six months.
"When I received the letter I just flipped out. I take it very personally given everything else that happened," said Hays, 58, adding that she would refuse to pay the $2,500 penalty. "Unfortunately, sometimes people in positions of authority are unethical, unprofessional or just downright criminal in their activity. And in that case, if you're in the right, you need to stand up for yourself. And that's what I did in my case — what they did was wrong, and what I did was right."
TSA identified several options for Hays to contest the fine, including appearing before an administrative law judge.
Suzanne Treviño, a TSA spokeswoman, said privacy laws prevent her from commenting on whether the agency is seeking a civil assessment against Hays. Generally, alleged criminal violations, even if dismissed, can also lead to civil action, she said.
"There's no double jeopardy, if you will," Treviño said. "Just because a case may be dismissed criminally, it can still be pursued civilly."
Hays was stopped about 12:55 p.m. in April last year at a Bob Hope Airport security checkpoint. A TSA supervisor told airport police that Hays made a fist and struck her on the hand as they tugged at an ice chest, according to the arrest report.
Hays denied hitting the agent, maintaining that she brought down her hand to keep agents from taking away her mother's applesauce, cheese, milk and soda. In the May 12 civil penalty notice, TSA claims that during the screening Hays was advised that items in the cooler, including liquids, were oversized and not allowed. According to the notice, Hays reached into the cooler while an agent held it and grabbed a can of soda, a prohibited item.
When she was told to put down the soda, Hays allegedly ignored instructions and interfered with the screening process by drinking in a sterile area, according to the TSA.
Federal regulations prohibit travelers from reaching into luggage that is being searched or opening food and beverage containers in the screening area. After the alleged battery, Hays wrested away the ice chest, emptied the contents into a trash bin, and told the agents that she was holding them responsible for her mother's well-being.
Agents then informed her that she was a threat to other passengers before she was arrested and taken to the Burbank Police Jail.
Hays called the series of events as recounted by TSA "a total lie."
"Did I drink a soda? Yes, I drunk a soda. Did I know I was in a sterile area and could not do so? No I did not," Hays said. "I am not a belligerent person. I don't defy the law. I didn't struggle with the soda. I let them have it."
Hays also cited an e-mail she sent to TSA before embarking on the trip, which informed the agency that she planned to take the snacks and beverages onboard, asking them to "please advise, as I do not want to have complications at the airport."
TSA officials responded days after her arrest with a form letter stating that the agency permits certain liquids necessary for people with medical conditions and disabilities. More than 3 ounces are also acceptable as long as passengers declare them at the gate.
In the last year, she has racked up legal bills of $15,000 and spent another $2,600 on airfare from Los Angeles after the incident at Bob Hope Airport. Hays is scheduled to appear before a judge Oct. 18 in Burbank for the battery charge to be officially dropped if she stays out of trouble.
Amid the legal wrangling, Hays has set up an e-mail address, TSA_abuse@hotmail.com, for passengers to send questions, complaints and compliments.
"I think that the people who are doing a good job should be patted on the back as well," Hays said. "On the other end, use your cell-phone camera to capture video. Get a name and a badge number. Document the time and date. It's not a put-down to TSA as an organization, it's a put down to TSA agents who are out of control."