(FOX 46 Charlotte) - The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General confirms it is investigating whether the TSA "has consistently ensured adequate policies are in place to prevent racial discrimination when conducting screening of the traveling public," following a FOX 46 investigation.
In August, three former federal air marshals said a TSA employee instructed them to target African Americans when they worked at the Orlando International Airport a decade ago.
"He told us to stop and talk to the black because they're the ones that have warrants," said former air marshal Steve Theodoropoulos. "But he didn't use 'black people.' He used the 'n-word.'"
That employee, who FOX 46 is not naming, is now a TSA Transportation Manager at the Sanford International Airport near Orlando, Fla. After our investigation, at least four members of Congress and the NAACP, called for an immediate investigation.
"Should these allegations prove true, this gentleman needs to be fired," said Rep. Darren Soto (D-Orlando). "And there needs to be a top-down shakeup."
Retired air marshal and Army veteran Ed Cunningham says he was interviewed for two hours and asked "detailed questions" about what he told FOX 46.
"Investigators did say 'this is a very serious issue' and 'they take this very seriously,'" said Cunningham. "They said, 'These are very serious matters and we are serious about looking into this and finding the truth.'"
"We are very happy for that. We're happy for the opportunity," said Theodoropoulos. "We will cooperate with them in every way possible."
"The TSA does not tolerate racism in any form," said TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz, when asked to comment on the investigation.
The OIG investigation comes amid new allegations that the TSA Transportation Manager used racially charged language before.
The employee's ex-wife provided FOX 46 two text messages sent in 2017, which have been authenticated, where he used a shortened version of the n-word to describe the African American father of her child.
"He often used the 'n-word' around me" on multiple occassions, the woman, who FOX 46 is not naming, said. "And everybody he was around."
She said she was not surprised by the allegations made by the three air marshals.
TSA Employee Responds
Reached by phone, the TSA Transportation Manager calls the allegations against him a "personal vendetta."
He admits sending the text messages but says it was a "typo," made twice, when he typed an "n" instead of a "b." He had meant to write "big boy," he said.
"It was a typo and the word 'big' was supposed to be used and I referred to him as 'big boy,'" he said.
His ex-wife says he had never used that nickname before.
"The second [text] was auto-corrected during a heated exchange throughout our divorce proceedings over money that I owed her," he said. "I continue to this day to provide benefits to her child, which I raised for seven years, who, by the way, is mixed race."
When asked why he never acknowledged the "typo" at the time, or apologized for it, the manager said it was because his ex-wife "knew what I meant."
The manager has denied all allegations of racial profiling.
Homeland Security OIG Statement
The DHS OIG sent FOX 46 the following statement regarding its investigation:
"Our office has an ongoing review to determine whether TSA has consistently ensured adequate policies are in place to prevent racial discrimination when conducting screening of the traveling public. This inquiry was initiated after we received requests from several Members of Congress to review allegations that TSA employees were directed to discriminate unlawfully against members of the traveling public. The results of our review will be reported publicly when completed. In the meantime, we can't provide any other information about an ongoing review, other than the brief description of the objective posted on our ongoing projects list."
Mecklenburg County NAACP statement:
“Any employee that does not respect all people, regardless of race, creed, or color, should not be any employee of that organization. Moreover, I am happy to hear that an investigation has begun and I await the outcome of that investigation. This has been rooted in racism and oppression of black people. And here we are, in 2018, and nothing has changed. I would hope we learn from history.”
The NAACP also called for an investigation into the allegations, citing FOX 46's report.
"The targeting of the African American flyers is sickening and utterly unacceptable,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. “We are moving forcefully with our partners to issue requests to the Chairman and ranking members of the House Committee on Homeland Security for a complete investigation into these allegations.”
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