Musician sues Customs over strip-search at BWI He says officers singled him out because he is black

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

Jamaican musician Peter Jackson has sued the U.S. Customs Service for $10 million, claiming that inspectors at Baltimore-Washington International Airport singled him out for a strip-search and X-rays for possible drugs in September 1997 because he is black.

The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, comes seven months after Jackson filed a $2 million administrative claim against the agency. His lawyer, Marvin Ellin, said he filed the suit because the Customs Service ignored the administrative claim.

"If Peter Jackson had not been black, this whole episode would not have occurred," Ellin said. "I'm afraid he paid the penalty for his skin color."

Customs spokesman Bill Anthony said he could not comment on the suit until it "wends its way through the courts and is decided."

He said suits in which passengers who were strip-searched claim their rights have been violated "pop up fairly regularly." Anthony said he does not know how many such cases there have been agains Customs but that the agency has "a great deal of faith in our inspectors" who searched Jackson.

'Within he guidelines'

"We are confident that they were following all procedures that we feel are just and are within the guidelines that we try to follow," Anthony said.

Customs has about a month to file its answer to the lawsuit.

Jackson, 27, a reggae artist who goes by the stage name Galaxy P, flew into BWI from Montego Bay about 9 p.m. Sept. 25, 1997.

In his suit, he claims that three customs inspectors singled him out from more than 100 passengers on the flight, demanding to know where the drugs were and refusing his repeated requests to page a friend who was picking him up and could verify that he was in the United States to promote his music.

The inspectors threatened and ridiculed him, and said they knew he had drugs, Jackson claims in the suit.

They strip-searched him and took him in handcuffs to North Arundel Hospital for X-rays. He was released about 1 a.m.

"After multiple hours of arrest, being handcuffed, ridiculed and humiliated," the suit says, "the agents drove [Jackson] back to BWI Airport, without any apology for having subjected him to four hours of terror, insults, false arrest, forceful submission to unnecessary X-ray exposure and simply said 'You can go.' "

'A small price'

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

He said inspectors were suspicious and continued their investigation because Jackson appeared nervous and had given inconsistent answers.

Ellin said Jackson's skin color had more to do with the search than those factors. He said he has interviewed three Customs agents -- whom he would not identify -- "who have been advised to be particularly careful regarding black tourists coming in from the Caribbean area as very likely suspects for the transport of drugs."

Jackson said he wants his lawsuit to prevent others from being subjected to such searches.

"This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me," he said. "I've never been arrested before, never been convicted. This is the first time in my whole life I've been cuffed. I don't want nobody at all to go through what I've gone through."

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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