TSA Apologizes for Searches of Elderly South Florida Women

Homeland Security official apologizes but denies strip searches occurred at JFK

The Department of Homeland Security is apologizing for the actions of TSA agents in the searches of two elderly South Florida women at JFK airport in New York last year.

In a letter from Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Betsy Markey to New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris obtained by NBC Miami, Markey admits agents violated policies but denied they conducted strip searches of the women.

"TSA sincerely regrets any discomfort or inconvenience the passengers at JFK experienced," Markey wrote. "TSA determined that there is no evidence to support the claims that TSA employees conducted strip searches of any passenger."

Lenore Zimmerman, 85, of Coconut Creek, claimed in December that she was humiliated after she was patted down and had to take off her clothes for a female TSA agent.

Zimmerman, who has a heart defibrillator, couldn't go through the scanning machine or metal detector.

According to Markey, Zimmerman "voluntarily raised her shirt and stated she was wearing a money belt under her clothing." A Transportation Security Officer stopped her from raising her shirt and took her to a private screening area, where the agent found the money belt was actually a back brace, Markey said.

The back brace was then screened through an x-ray machine.

"It is not standard procedure for TSOs to screen back braces through the x-ray, and TSA apologizes for this employee's action," Markey wrote. "However, contrary to to statements, at no point was the passenger asked to remove any items of clothing during screening."

Reach by phone Wednesday, Zimmerman said she hadn't seen the letter and hadn''t heard from the TSA. She said she was still upset but "would rather forget about the whole incident."

When she spoke with an NBC Miami reporter in person later, Zimmerman said she was "absolutely outraged."

"I don't consider this an apology, because they say it never happened, and it did," she said.

Ruth Sherman, 89, of Sunrise, made claims similar to Zimmerman's, saying she was undressed by TSA agents so her colostomy bag could be inspected.

"Why don't they send anything to me and say we're really sorry we invaded your privacy," she said Wednesday.

Markey said Sherman began to voluntarily lower her pants in public view before she was taken to a private screening area during the incident involving her.

"While in the private screening area, she received a pat down and the TSO asked that she visually present the colostomy device for inspection," Markey wrote. It is not standard operating procedure for colostomy devices to be visually inspected, and TSA also apologizes for this employee's action. However, again, at no point was the passenger asked to remove any items of clothing during screening."

Sherman said flatly: "I'm disgusted, it's a lie."

Markey said TSOs at JFK are receiving refresher training on how to respectfully and safely screen passengers with disabilities or medical conditions to avoids incidents like these happening again.

Sherman said training is certainly needed.

"They should send people to classes so they can learn how to deal with the public," she said.

Zimmerman, who splits her time between South Florida and New York, said she's planning to fly back to the Big Apple in the spring.

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