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Why No Charges for Fake TSA Agent Who Gave Women Pat-Downs?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

A strange case of a man impersonating a TSA agent and giving "screenings" at San Francisco International Airport turned even stranger when prosecutors decided not to file charges against him.

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told San Francisco's KPIX-TV that Eric Slighton, 53, would not be charged for allegedly posing as a TSA agent and giving at least two women pat-downs in July. Wagstaffe explained that while the allegations may sound vile, authorities have been unable to identify the two victims, giving the DA no case to pursue. The DA also stands behind his assertion that, somehow, impersonating a TSA agent is not illegal.

How can that be?

No Victims, No Case: DA

Slighton, a banking executive, was caught in mid-July posing as a Transportation Security Agency (TSA) screener at SFO and was accused of directing at least two women into a private booth for pat-downs. As we blogged about in July, all it took was a blue polo shirt, some khakis, and a pair of disposable gloves for Slighton to infiltrate airport security, but apparently no one can testify to his misdeeds.

One of the biggest reasons that criminal charges are either dropped or never filed in the first place is lack of evidence. If local investigators couldn't locate either of the women who Slighton allegedly "screened," it would be very difficult to prosecute him for sexual assault. Wagstaffe told KPIX that "there was no surveillance footage from inside the screening room," leaving prosecutors with very little to go on.

DA Says No Crime, but Federal Law Seems to Say Otherwise

Wagstaffe noted to KPIX that "while it's illegal to impersonate a police officer, there is no law against impersonating a TSA agent."

Really? What about these federal laws:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 912: Assuming or pretending to be a federal employee or officer is a felony.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 913: Impersonating federal officer and employee and making detention or search is also a felony.

Slighton was accused of both impersonating a TSA agent (self-described federal employees) and performing pat-downs, so shouldn't he be on the hook for at least two federal crimes?

The South China Morning Post reports that Slighton is the son-in-law of Tung Chee-hwa, who was Hong Kong's first Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council after the British colony reverted to Chinese control in 1997. Wagstaffe decried this connection as "irrelevant" in his decision not to prosecute Slighton.

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