Man sues U.S. Customs over BWI drug search Jamaican bTC musician seeks $2 million

March 14, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The Jamaican musician U.S. Customs officials fruitlessly strip-searched, handcuffed and took to the hospital to be X-rayed for possible drugs in September at Baltimore-Washington International Airport filed a $2 million claim against the federal agency yesterday.

Peter Jackson, 26, a reggae artist who goes by the stage name Galaxy P, filed the administrative claim, which seeks $1 million in punitive damages and $1 million for personal injury.

Customs spokesman Bill Anthony said yesterday that he could not comment because the case is going to be litigated.

"This man has been subjected to an indignity I've never heard of before," said Marvin Ellin, Jackson's attorney. "Where you have a constitutional or a citizen's right completely obliterated and justify it on the basis of reducing [drug flow into the country] it would be the equivalent of burning down a house in order to get rid of mice.

Ellin said he hopes the claim "will punish those men who were acting more like cowboys than trained intelligence agents."

Jackson said he flew into BWI from Montego Bay about 9 p.m. on Sept. 25. Four customs officers stopped him after he picked up his bags and took him to a room where they intimidated, questioned and strip-searched him, he said.

Jackson said he was not allowed a phone call and that when he asked to go to the bathroom, three officers followed there and ridiculed him. He said that when their search revealed no drugs, they handcuffed and took him to a nearby hospital, where he was X-rayed for drugs.

The officers did not find any drugs and released him just before 1 a.m.

At the time of the incident, Anthony said, "We're sorry [Jackson] was caused delay, but given the spread of how much heroin is out on the streets in the United States, it's a small price to pay. That is the price of trying to keep these drugs out."

Jackson, who was in Baltimore yesterday to file the claim, said he has nightmares about the incident and that his wrists still bear marks from the handcuffs.

"I'm having a breakdown," he said. "I get so tired, and when I think about it, I cry. And I have to live with these memories for the rest of my life."

Michael Sietz-Honig, vice president of marketing at Peter Pan Industries, the Newark, N.J., record company that represents Jackson, said they decided to file the claim after hearing that a federal jury had awarded a Port Chester, N.Y., woman more than $450,000 in damages last month in a similar case.

Ellin said customs officials have six months to respond to Jackson's claim. If they haven't settled the dispute by then, Ellin said, he plans to file a suit in U.S. District Court.

"Right now, customs officials have such unbridled discretion," said Dwight Sullivan, staff counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union's Baltimore office. "The courts really aren't looking over their shoulders in any way. Maybe the only way to get them to reform their ways is to have an effect on their budget."

Pub Date: 3/14/98

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