Pat-down Searches Reemerge in Tampa After Injunction Is Lifted

Oct 24, 2008

It was a typical October afternoon in Tampa, the thermometer pushing near 90.
Fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were feeling the heat, staggered in long lines outside Raymond James Stadium. The roar of the jets served as a reminder to the horde of people still outside the stadium — kickoff was minutes away.
One could forgive the fans for not realizing they had to arrive early for the October 12 game against the Carolina Panthers. It’s been to difficult to keep track of when the searches, originally mandated by the NFL years ago in response to terrorist threats on U.S. soil, were being used and when they weren’t.
The stadium had been the lone holdout to the NFL policy, after a high school teacher Gordon Johnston successfully challenged the mandate, claiming that the searches violated his Constitutional rights. On September 22, however, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction that had been put in place by a state court judge.
That ruling executed on the panel’s previous opinion issued in June and reported in Sports Litigation Alert (Vol. 5, Iss. 13).
The litigation got its start in February 2005 when the Tampa Sports Authority instituted a policy that required brief pat-down searches of all persons attending Tampa Bay Buccaneer football games. That fall, wrote an earlier court, “The NFL urged the pat-down policy to protect members of the public who attend NFL games. The NFL concluded that NFL stadia are attractive terrorist targets based on the publicity that would be generated by an attack at an NFL game.”
The court added that “Johnston, a high school civics teacher, was aware of the pat-down policy before the first game of the 2005 season. Press releases announcing the initiation of the pat-down policy were published in the media, on the Buccaneers’ website, and in a direct communication to season ticket holders.” Other notification measures included notices to cars entering the Stadium parking lot, loudspeaker announcements outside of the Stadium before games, and multiple signs along common walking routes.
The court continued, “Johnston called the Buccaneers’ office before the first game of the 2005 season to discuss the pat-down search policy. Johnston objected to the policy, and claims that he was told that the Buccaneers would not refund the cost of season tickets based solely on his objections. … Johnston nonetheless presented himself and his ticket at an entrance to the Stadium on three occasions. On each occasion, a screener advised Johnston that a pat-down search would be performed. Johnston verbally objected to the pat-down but allowed it to be conducted so that he could attend the games. After attending the second game Johnston sued the Authority in state court, seeking to enjoin the searches. After suit was filed, Johnston attended a third game, and, after offering his objection, he again submitted to a pat-down search. After the third game the Florida state court enjoined the searches and Johnston attended subsequent games without being subjected to the search.”
Specifically, the state court found the searches unconstitutional under the Florida Constitution, and enjoined the Authority from continuing any of them.
Johnston’s attorneys are said to be considering an appeal of the 11th Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Articles in Current Issue