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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Delayed by her bra, air passenger is indignant

When Berkeley resident Nancy Kates arrived at Oakland International Airport to board JetBlue flight 472, she thought she was heading off on a routine journey to visit her mother in Boston. Instead she ended up in a standoff with Transportation Safety Administration officials over her bra.

In the post-Sept. 11 world of heightened airport scrutiny, Kates, like most travelers, is familiar with the drill: Take off shoes and belts, open the laptop, carry shampoo in 3-ounce bottles.

For Kates, on Sunday, though, the security check got too invasive. A big-busted woman wearing a large underwire bra, she set off the metal detector. She was pulled aside and checked by a female TSA agent with a metal-sensitive wand.

"The woman touched my breast. I said, 'You can't do that,' " Kates said. "She said, 'We have to pat you down.' I said, 'You can't treat me as a criminal for wearing a bra.' "

Kates asked to see a supervisor and then the supervisor's supervisor. He told her that underwire bras were the leading item that set off the metal detectors, Kates said.

If that's the case, Kates said, the equipment must be overly sensitive. And if the TSA is engaging in extra brassiere scrutiny, then other women are suffering similar humiliation, Kates thought.

The Constitution bars unreasonable searches and seizures, Kates reminded the TSA supervisor, and scrutinizing a woman's brassiere is surely unreasonable, she said.

The supervisor told her she had the choice of submitting to a pat-down in a private room or not flying. Kates offered a third alternative, to take off her bra and try again, which the TSA accepted.

"They tried to humiliate me and I was not going to be humiliated over this," Kates said. "If I was carrying nail clippers and forgot about them, I wouldn't have gotten so upset. But here I was just wearing my underwear."

So she went to the rest room, then through the security line a second time. Walking through the airport braless can be embarrassing for a large-chested woman, not to mention uncomfortable. The metal detector didn't beep on the second time through, but then officials decided to go through Kates' carry-on luggage, she said.

The whole undertaking took 40 minutes, Kates said, and caused her to miss her flight. JetBlue put her on another one, but she was four hours late getting to Boston.

"It's actually a little funny in a way, but a sad, sad commentary on the state of our country," Kates said. "This is bigger than just me. There are 150 million women in America, and this could happen to any of them."

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said Monday that he wasn't familiar with the incident. But he said in all circumstances, "we have to resolve an alarm."

That's the case for bras, artificial hips or anything with metal that sets off an alarm, he said. "Unfortunately, we can't take a passenger's word for it."

Melendez said he didn't have any statistics on how many times passengers are screened because of bras. But he said, "we do everything we can to ensure that a passenger doesn't feel humiliated."

Kates said she plans to talk to her family lawyer as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women and decide how to pursue the incident.

Barry Steinhardt, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's technology and liberty program, said Monday of federal security officials: "They can't find bombs in checked luggage, and they're essentially doing a pat-down of private parts. This is a security apparatus that is out of control."

Kates said that although she flies about once a month, the only other time her bra has set off alarms in an airport was while she was being "wanded" in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. When she explained to the security agent that the wand was picking up the metal in her bra, she said, that was the end of the matter and she was allowed to go on her way.

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Police: Intruder strangled by nurse was hit man

When Susan Kuhnhausen returned home from work one day earlier this month, she encountered an intruder wielding a claw hammer. After a struggle, the 51-year-old nurse fended off her attacker by strangling him with her bare hands.

Neighbors praised the woman for her bravery, and investigators said they believed the dead man — Edward Dalton Haffey — was burglarizing Kuhnhausen’s home.

But after an investigation, police now say the intruder Kuhnhausen strangled was apparently a hit man hired by her estranged husband — Michael James Kuhnhausen Sr. — to kill her.

The 58-year-old husband was taken into custody Thursday and charged with conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder. He was ordered held on $500,000 bail.

Haffey had worked as a custodian under Kuhnhausen at an adult video store, according an affidavit filed by the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office.

Kuhnhausen and his wife were in the process of getting a divorce, and she told officers “her husband was distraught about the divorce and wanting to reconcile but that she was insisting on the divorce,” the affidavit states.

A background check showed Haffey had served lengthy prison terms for conspiracy to commit aggravated murder and convictions for robbery and burglary.

Inside a backpack Haffey left at the scene was a day planner with “Call Mike, Get letter,” scribbled on the week of Sept. 4, the affidavit said. Michael Kuhnhausen’s cell phone number was jotted on the inside of a folder, it said.

An emergency room nurse who lives in a southeast Portland neighborhood, Susan Kuhnhausen arrived home on the evening of Sept. 6 to find Haffey coming at her with a claw hammer.

She was struck in the head and wrested the weapon away, but the struggle continued and Haffey bit the nurse, according to police. A large woman, she was eventually able to get the slight Haffey into a chokehold and police later found him dead in a hallway. An autopsy revealed the cause of death as strangulation.

Police say she acted in self-defense.

There was no sign of forced entry into the home, but according to the affidavit, Susan Kuhnhausen offered an explanation for the lack of evidence of a break-in: Her estranged husband had the security codes for the home’s alarm system, and would have been able to disarm it.

Michael Kuhnhausen denies any involvement, the affidavit states.

Susan Kuhnhausen was out of town attending a nursing conference and did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

She left this message on her voicemail: “I’m not able to answer all the calls that I’ve received in the past few days. I’m being comforted by your concern and your support. I want you to know that our lives are all at risk for random acts, but more likely random acts of love will come your way than random acts of violence.”