Hannah Cohen
Source: Shirley Cohen.

Should Hannah Cohen Have Made an Appointment to be Treated Humanely?

W hen Hannah Cohen set off the metal detector while passing through the security checkpoint at Memphis International Airport on Tuesday, June 30, 2015, agents of the Transportation Security Administration wanted to perform further scanning on her — but according to her mother, she tried “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.”

Cohen — who is 19 years old and no relation to me, as far as I know — is considered a disabled person, as she is partially deaf, blind in one eye, paralyzed, and easily confused and disoriented, according to what Shirley Cohen tried to tell agents of the Transportation Security Administration about her daughter. Hannah simply did not understand what the agents of the Transportation Security Administration were about to do to her.

“There was blood everywhere”

They were on their way home to Chattanooga after being treated for a brain tumor at Saint Jude Hospital, according to this article written by Wayne Carter of WREG-TV News Channel 3 in Memphis.

Hannah and her mother had been traveling to Memphis for 17 years of treatments — and this trip home was especially significant, as it was after her final treatment at the hospital — but instead of celebrating the progress of her improved health at home, Hannah instead was bruised and bloodied as a result of the incident at the airport. She was arrested, handcuffed, led out of the airport, and spent the night locked up in jail in Memphis while their luggage traveled on to Chattanooga.

“There was blood everywhere”, her mother said after the incident at the airport.

A video of an interview with Shirley Cohen from this article written by Sara Sidery of WRCB-TV Channel 3 in Chattanooga shows the mother telling her side of the story in her own words:

Authorities later dismissed the charges after an arraignment; but a lawsuit was filed by the Cohen family in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee against Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority; Memphis International Airport Police Department; and the Transportation Security Administration. They are seeking damages in a reasonable sum not exceeding $100,000.00 plus costs.

Should Hannah Cohen Have Made an Appointment to be Treated Humanely?

Sari Koshetz — a spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration — released a statement which stated that “Passengers can call ahead of time to learn more about the screening process for their particular needs or medical situation.”

FlyerTalk member Boggie Dog opined that “How this young lady was treated at the Memphis TSA checkpoint is beyond the pale. Doesn’t matter if it was screeners, cops, or both. What was done was wrong. TSA’s solution to call ahead is also wrong headed thinking. No one should need to make an appointment to be treated humanely, with respect, and dignity at any TSA checkpoint but that is what Neffenger apparently expects since that is current TSA policy.”

Police or TSA doesn’t matter, both are equally at fault and should be held accountable, personally and the agencies involved.”

A Reminder of a Different Incident in One Respect?

The part of the report where Shirley Cohen claimed that she was kept at a distance by police when she attempted to come to the assistance of her daughter reminded me of an investigation of video surveillance footage back in 2011, which revealed that a female agent of the Transportation Security Administration had allegedly groped the crotch of the 14-year-old daughter of Andrea Abbott at a security checkpoint at Nashville International Airport. Abbott attempted to record the “pat-down” on her mobile telephone, but Jeffery Nolen — an officer of the Nashville International Airport Department of Public Safety — appeared to purposely use his body to block her line of sight to her daughter.

Abbott was found guilty of disorderly conduct after four hours of deliberation by jurors in October of 2012. The 42-year-old woman was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days of probation.

During that incident, the daughter of Andrea Abbot was considered a minor; whereas Hannah Cohen was older than the age of 18. Should Shirley Cohen have risked being arrested by law enforcement officers by being more aggressive about protecting the rights of her daughter? That is a difficult question to answer.


Assuming that I know all of the facts behind this incident — and I do not purport to know them, as I suspect that there is more to the story — the agents of the Transportation Security Administration who were involved in this incident should have used better judgment. While they had no idea of the physical condition of Hannah Cohen, I cannot imagine a scenario requiring the use of excessive force on a woman who is 19 years of age — unless she was armed and obviously a threat to other people.

According to the lawsuit, Hannah Cohen carried no contraband or weapon at the time of the incident.

If the incident occurred as the media is reporting it, I believe that the family should have sought more than $100,000.00, as I have no idea what short-term and long-term damages — emotionally and mentally as well as physically — Hannah Cohen may suffer as a result of what happened on that day last year at Memphis International Airport.

What was allegedly done to Hannah Cohen at Memphis International Airport was inexcusable and did nothing to promote the tenet of safety, in my opinion. Even if she was considered a suspect, there are ways to safely and effectively detain her without causing injuries severe enough to cause her to bleed.

Source: Shirley Cohen.

  1. No excuse for the way they treated this girl. TSA’s public response was tone deaf to say the least.

    TSA has never prevented a single actual terrorist incident or attack at a screening point. They are good at improper behavior and violating the rights of innocent passengers. And they have a failure rate of about 95% in detecting actual weapons and simulated explosives in their own “red team” tests.

  2. Not just no but h*** no, with all due respect. As a physician, I’ve had to endure thousands upon thousands of hours of special training to deal with a vast myriad of situations. I find it extremely hard to believe that a standardized security body aren’t given even the smallest iota of specialized training in order to prevent situations like this from happening.

    And being told to phone ahead for information is one thing. However, having to call ahead in order to receive special treatment that you’re rightfully entitled to given the physical and mental alterations secondary to a disease process. I’ll be certain to ensure my next gun shot victim calls ahead before he gets shot.

  3. This looks pretty awful, but also consider there could have been TSA agents that had never encountered this woman before. Generally speaking, if you appear to be freaking out and run away from police/law enforcement/TSA, they will take that as a serious threat. You never know if someone has a concealed weapon of any kind on them and therefore it naturally makes someone in a security position very nervous.

    Just trying to see both sides, though there are certainly opportunities for improvement in the process. And of course I don’t have all the facts.

    1. I agree, EJ

      …but even if she was perceived as a serious threat, there are ways to mitigate that threat without using the type of force that was allegedly inflicted upon her…

      1. No offense but people still would have bitched if they had tazed her. That’s about the only other option versus a “grab and tackle” approach to a running teenager.

  4. It doesn’t look like she was that seriously injured. That’s about the level of injury you’d get from slipping and faceplanting so that wasn’t a hard takedown at all especially on a hard surface. For example, when I slipped and fell in the shower a couple of years back. By the time my nose and lip stopped bleeding it looked like Jack the Ripper had paid a visit. The family is just spinning it in hopes of a fat payday and it fits the standard narrative of the TSA (and, more recently, law enforcement officers) as a bunch of bullies.

    Facial injuries- like a bloody nose or busted lip- just bleed a tremendous amount. To someone who hasn’t spent a large amount of time around emergency medicine and forensics (almost twenty years between the two fields), it looks like she got the shit beat out of her when she probably was grabbed, taken to the floor and she whacked her face on the floor.

    Given her disability (and just being a teenager for that fact), for all we know she smashed her own face into the ground while being restrained out of frustration. My cousin who is special needs with probably a similar level of function will do that when restrained (she gets combative at times). Five bucks says there’s much more to the story than the family wants to admit. The fact that no charges were sustained against the officers involve tends to argue for the fact that the surveillance footage- which we all know exists- didn’t back up the sob story they fed to this reporter.

    Until the security camera footage gets released, my approach is to give the benefit of the doubt to the officers involved over some mother who smells blood in the water (no pun intended).

    Then again, we’re well into armchair quarterbacking mode here so I doubt anyone will agree.

    1. It is also telling that they dropped the charges against Hannah. I also would like more information and would like to see the actual footage before drawing a final conclusion. The TSAs statement indicating that people need to call ahead of time for special reasonable accommodation is not how ADA law works. However there is some obligation on the disabled or those advocating or caregiving for them to identify the person as being disabled because it is not always obvious to people. Now if she was in a wheel chair then the TSA has no leg to stand on because they are supposed to determine if you need special help or consideration… I know this because of over thirty years of living with a rare spinal disease which is incredibly painful so I know from the inside what it feels like to be abused and neglected by doctors, orderlies and nurses and airport personnel. Wouldn’t it be easier to reserve judgment on both parties instead of taking a side without seeing the security footage? Now, as I have noted in a separate post on this thread that I take extra precautions to declare my disabled state to airline, airport and TSA personnel and that is what I want to see on the video. Was Hannah visibly impaired? Was she in a wheel chair? And once the confusion started how did the TSA agents and possibly others behave? I’m withholding judgment on the entire matter until I see the complete footage of the incident.

  5. Brian, one of the problems with the current system is that disabled people are separated from their family, friends or advocates during the screening process. I have not heard if she was being assisted by a “sky cap” or not. I am disabled and I always get “gate to gate” service which is where you have a sky cap push you in a wheel chair from the airport entrance, through the metal detectors/XRay and so forth to your departing gate and from your return gate to the airport exit upon your return trip. I do it because of the physical trauma I experience from a car accident and a chronic pain disease. The wheel chair kind of telegraphs to everyone that you have issues and typically they will ask you if you can walk through the scanners on your own. I use a cane but I can usually make the few feet through the scanner. The sky cap often acts as your advocate and they have some interest in helping you because you can tip them but mostly I have found them to be genuinely concerned for my welfare and the point is that can stay closer to you because of their status at the airport whereas your advocate is also being screened so there is that gap. Of course there is no justification for what happened here based on the information I have. I would like to know if the young woman was using a wheel chair or not. Part of what I’m saying is to not be critical of the family because that’s not fair, but so that others can protect themselves. I find that using a wheel chair through the airport not only saves me from countless hours of writhing in pain but also telegraphs and highlights to others that I have a disability. I also inform them about the metal plate in my spine because that can set off the alarm. Going out is dangerous when you have a disability and any degree of normalcy to your demeanor or persona. I thank God that I present normally but the burden of a “hidden illness” is that people sometimes will not give you the reasonable accommodations that ADA affords those with disabilities. It is important to identify yourself or have your advocate identify you as someone who is protected by ADA. I cover myself by making sure the request for gate to gate wheel chair service is on the flight information. Technically you don’t have to do this but I’ve learned the hard way to cover myself with declarations so there is no confusion. My ADA rights have been violated many times at airports by flight attendants, airport personnel. I feel for this girl because it is harder for her to stand up for herself with her set of disabilities whereas I am a highly verbal person and I let people know that my lawyer is on speed dial and I can quote ADA law all day long… Not all disabled people can do this and their needs to be a more human way of dealing with people. Part of the problem is also that they treat people like cattle and the disabled are most disadvantaged by this treatment.

    1. The excellent information you posted is powerful and worthy of a guest article, Jim.

      Thank you so much for imparting your eloquent thoughts and experiences; and I am sorry to learn that the chronic pain from which you suffer was the result of you being involved in an automobile accident.

      For what it is worth, I hope that there will one day be a way for you to improve your health…

    2. Hannah’s mother spent several minutes before the “takedown” explaining to the TSA personnel about Hannah’s disabilities, which was clear from the video. TSA folks didn’t listen, as they demonstrated.

  6. I’m sure that the TSA were guilty.
    The TSA were told by the mother that her daughter was disabled during the incident.
    So the TSA already knew they were mistreating a disabled person.
    As for the charges being dropped, this doesn’t mean the TSA were innocent. Charges can be dropped if they don’t have enough evidence from both or either side.
    It’s also important to note that the court refunded the victim’s money paid for the trial, and even the judge recommended the victim got legal representation.
    To get legal representation, you need to have a strong case.
    Taking this into account, the judge must’ve been confident that the TSA were guilty. Of course, when presenting evidence, bias has to be put aside. If you don’t have enough evidence, it can be difficult when facing your abuser in court.

  7. Hannah’s mother spent several minutes before the “takedown” explaining to the TSA personnel about Hannah’s disabilities, which was clear from the video. TSA folks didn’t listen, as they demonstrated.

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