CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - At least four members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the Federal Air Marshal Service after a FOX 46 report first revealed allegations of racial profiling, and even the use of a racial slur by a supervisor.
In response to our story, three members of the House Committee on Homeland Security wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General John Kelly calling for an expedited investigation into the allegations. Though the allegations are from a decade ago, the person who allegedly made the racist directive, now works as a TSA manager at the Sanford International Airport in central Florida.
“The allegations are extremely troubling, especially given the history of allegations regarding misconduct, discrimination, and retaliation within the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). We have long been concerned that the policies of the TSA, which oversees the FAMS, open the door to racial profiling and other forms of discrimination,” the Congressional letter reads. “For the TSA to earn the trust of the American public, non-discriminational policies must be fully enforced, allegations of misconduct must be fully investigated, and substantiated misconduct must be remedied by corrective action.”
The letter is signed by committee ranking member Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and Rep. Bonnie Coleman (D-NJ.).
“There’s nothing to explain. This is absolutely atrocious,” said Rep. Darren Soto (D-Florida), reacting to FOX 46's investigation.
Last week, former federal air marshals Steve Theodoropoulos, Henry Preston and Ed Cunningham all told FOX 46 they were directed to target African Americans, by a supervisor who instead used the n-word, when they all worked at the Orlando International Airport. The remarks were allegedly made between 2005 and 2010.
“The fact that a federal air marshal may have encouraged people to racially profile African Americans is absolutely despicable,” said Soto. “And we’ll be joining Rep. Val Demings (D-Florida) in calling for an investigation. Should these allegations prove true, this gentleman needs to be fired and there needs to be a top-down shakeup.”
“He told us stop and talk to the black people. Get the black people because they’ve got the warrants,” former federal air marshal Steve Theodoropoulos told FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant. “But he didn't use ‘the black people,’ he used the n-word and we were taken by that. In this day and time what...supervisor would indicate that? But that's what they wanted to do. It was number driven. You're stopping and talking to people based on color cecause they’re black they possibly have more warrants than other types of people and that’s what we were told.”
“You both heard him use the n-word?,” asked Grant.
“Yes,” said Theodoropouls.
“Yes,” said Henry Preston, a former air marshal who also worked in Orlando.
Army veteran and former air marshal Ed Cunningham says he also heard the racist directive “several times.”
“How would he say this? Was it a directive? Was it very casual?,” Grant asked Cunningham.
“If I could be perfectly blunt, and I don’t even like using the language whatsoever,” said Cunningham, “‘If you can’t find any of the [behavior] indicators of individuals to where we can legitimize our numbers here, just look for the n-----s they’re the ones that always has the extra warrants on them.”
Now, Congress wants to know whether passengers were discriminated against by race, whether any racial profiling directives were acted upon and whether any discrimination continues today.
The TSA would not comment on the letter but a spokesman says that employee is not under investigation, was not in a position of authority over the air marshals, and there is no record of a complaint.
However, Theodoropoulos says he made verbal complaints to the TSA and Homeland Security Inspector General - and says his complaints went nowhere.
“We reported it to the Department of Homeland Security Inspector [General] when they came down and nothing happened,” he said.
The TSA has insisted it does not track passengers by race or religion and a spokesman says they do not tolerate discrimination.
"The Transportation Security Administration and Federal Air Marshal Service do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, period," said spokesman Thomas Kelly. "Federal Air Marshals are from all walks of life and come to work every day for one reason - to protect the traveling public. They provide a valuable layer of security and are committed [to] their mission."
The NAACP, ACLU and CAIR have also called for an investigation citing FOX 46's reports.