Warrantless searches without consent: Now what?

Over the past month I’ve received more than 500 emails requesting I DO NOT CONSENT TO SEARCH stickers. The most common follow-on question I’ve received is: “If law enforcement doesn’t have a warrant to search my aircraft and I tell them that I do not consent to searches, but they search my aircraft anyway, what can I do about it?”

The first thing to do is get the name or badge number of the lead law enforcement officer or agent and all of the others officers or agents there. Obtaining both names and badge numbers is best. Write them down and note the law enforcement agency of each officer or agent.

Also, record the day, time, and location. If you have immediate access to a camera or smartphone during the search, snap a couple of photos or take a video, if possible.

Next, look to see if the airport has any security cameras that are pointing in your general direction; that’s another good form of visual documentation of the event. If there are witnesses, make sure you get their names and contact information.

The next thing to do is contact your attorney or legal service. They will want the information you recorded. You may want to consult with them first before going to the next step.

The third step in all of this is to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI is charged with the responsibility of investigating civil rights violations by law enforcement.

When I spoke with my local FBI Field Office concerning this topic, I learned that the FBI is especially interested if there was excessive use of force or any injury that occurred during the unwarranted search. But in any case, the FBI has the responsibility to investigate allegations of civil rights violations by law enforcement.

This website lists the 56 field offices of the FBI and their contact information.

You can also file your complaint directly with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC. Send them the same materials you provided your local FBI field office. Here’s the mailing address: US Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section – PHB, Washington, DC 20530.

You can also receive more information concerning the complaint process from The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights or calling 80-552-6843 or 202-376-8513.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General is another path to initiate an investigation into alleged violations of civil rights and liberties — especially if excessive force was used. Remember, the use of handcuffs is a form of assault. To use the DHS HOTLINE to report a violation call 800-323-8603 or FAX to 202-254-4297. You can also write to: DHS Office of Inspector General/MAIL STOP 0305, Attention: Office of Investigations—Hotline, 245 Murray Lane SW, Washington, DC 20528-0305.

You can also click here to use the DHS Office of the Inspector General’s Allegation Form.

If your civil rights or liberties have been violated by law enforcement at any level, you are not powerless. Being a good citizen does not mean sacrificing your civil rights and liberties.

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