After being questioned by Transportation Security Administration workers at Philadelphia International Airport about some PowerBars and a watch in his bag, Vanderklok was accosted by TSA supervisor Charles Kieser.
When Vanderklok asked to file a complaint, Kieser instead called the Philadelphia police, who promptly arrested Vanderklok and took him to jail.
Vanderklok is now suing the Philadelphia police along with the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security.
“The police at the airport never even questioned Mr. Vanderklok. They just detained him,” said Vanderklok’s attorney, Thomas Malone. “The detectives at the 18th [District] also never spoke with him. He was charged based on a single allegation by one TSA employee.”
Vanderklok was arrested on January 26, 2013, after security grew suspicious of the watch and PowerBars in his bag. Vanderklok, 57, an architect from Philadelphia, was asked if he had any “organic matter” in his bag. Thinking the TSA was asking if he had any fruit or vegetables, Vanderklok said no.
PowerBars, which contain milk, grain and sugar, are considered “organic matter” and can resemble a common explosive. Terrorists often use a small electronic device, like a watch, to detonate the explosive. Hence the agent’s concern.
Once the items were deemed harmless, Vanderklok says, he told Kieser that if someone had only told him what “organic matter” meant, he could have saved everyone a lot of trouble. Kieser then became confrontational. Vanderklok says he calmly asked to file a complaint. He then waited while someone was supposedly retrieving the proper form.
Instead, Kieser summoned the Philadelphia Police. Vanderklok was taken to an airport holding cell, and his personal belongings – including his phone – were confiscated while police “investigated” him.
Vanderklok was detained for three hours in a holding cell – missing his plane – then handcuffed and taken to a police station jail cell for a total of 20 hours.
None of the police officers told him why he was there. Only at his 2 a.m. arraignment did Vanderklok find out he was being charged with “threatening the placement of a bomb” and making “terroristic threats.” His wife had to pay $4,000 bail to get him released from jail at 4 a.m.
At Vanderklok’s trial on April 8, 2013, TSA supervisor Kieser told the court, “I saw a passenger becoming agitated. Hands were in the air. And it’s something we deal with regularly. But I don’t let it go on on my checkpoint.” Kieser added that Vanderklok, “had both hands with fingers extended up toward the ceiling up in the air at the time and shaking them,” and “put his finger in my face. And he said, ‘Let me tell you something. I’ll bring a bomb through here any day I want.’ And he said you’ll never find it.”
Fortunately for Vanderklok, Kieser went overboard with his lying, as the airport surveillance videos showed Vanderklok looked calm with his laptop under his arms and his hands clasped in front of him throughout the incident.
Judge Felice Stack acquitted Vanderklok of all charges within minutes of hearing Kieser’s testimony. The only questions left are how much will the TSA and Philadelphia police offer as a settlement, and will Kieser and any of the officers who arrested Vanderklok face any repercussions?