Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

High court rejects a Tampa lawsuit aimed at ending searches of fans at NFL games

TAMPA — A high school civics teacher's three-year fight to stop pat-down searches at Raymond James Stadium came to an end Wednesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the appeal of Gordon Johnston, 63, who claimed the patdowns violated his Fourth Amendment privacy protections.

Johnston, a season ticket holder for Tampa Bay Buccaneers football games, acknowledged that his cause is dead unless another challenge emerges.

"Needless to say, I'm gravely disappointed," said Johnston, a Valrico resident who teaches American government at Tampa Bay Tech high school. "I still feel like I have a right to go to a ball game without being touched or patted down."

The National Football League ordered fan patdowns at the start of the 2005 season in response to terrorism concerns. Fans were met by private security guards who tapped their bodies with the backs of their hands in search of weapons or other contraband.

Johnston, represented by lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, is believed to be the first person to challenge the action in court.

He argued that patdowns are an unreasonable invasion of privacy that do little to make fans safer. If anything, the lines that resulted outside the stadium exposed game patrons to greater danger, he said.

A lower court agreed. But a panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision in June 2007, saying Johnston had consented to the searches by purchasing tickets.

Patdowns at Raymond James were on hold during the legal back and forth but resumed Oct. 12 after the appellate court lifted a stay. Until that point, Raymond James remained the last NFL stadium where the patdowns did not occur.

Another challenge by a season ticketholder of the San Francisco 49ers is before the California Supreme Court.

"Patdowns have been and will continue to be an important part of our comprehensive security procedures, including secure facility perimeters and bag searches," said Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL. "These limited security screenings are designed to enhance the protection and safety of our fans."

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case means things remain the same at Raymond James.

"We're now doing what all the other teams are doing and we have been for a good part of this season," said Rick Zabak, an attorney with GrayRobinson, a law firm who had represented the Tampa Sports Authority, the governmental body that runs the stadium.

Johnston said he is evaluating whether to continue buying season tickets in the wake of the ruling. He's torn because he objects to the searches but enjoys seeing the games.

In filing his suit, he said he was hoping to use it as a teaching moment for his students, showing them how to properly challenge the actions of government with which they disagree.

Along the way, he caught some grief from fans. What's the big deal? they asked.

"I think they don't understand the Constitution as I do," Johnston said. "Sometimes I look at these people and think, poor them. They don't understand the ramifications. If we allow that right to be taken away in the name of security, they may take away more rights."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report, which includes information from the New York Times. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

High court rejects a Tampa lawsuit aimed at ending searches of fans at NFL games 01/21/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 7:34am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  2. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle

    World

    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  3. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators

    National

    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.
  4. Baghdad orders Kurdistan region to hand over borders, ports

    World

    BAGHDAD — Iraq's central government in Baghdad ordered the country's Kurdish region to hand over all border crossings and airports to federal government control late Sunday night, hours before the region is set to carry out a controversial referendum on support for independence.

    Iraqi Kurds climb the fence into a soccer stadium during a rally in Irbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, on Friday. Kurds will vote in a referendum today on the creation of their own country.
  5. Official: Hurricane Maria set Puerto Rico back decades

    Hurricanes

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in the U.S. Congress said Sunday that Hurricane Maria's destruction has set the island back decades, even as authorities worked to assess the extent of the damage.

    National Guardsmen arrive Sunday at Barrio Obrero in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to distribute water and food to people in need after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria. The death toll on the island from Maria is 10, but that number is expected to climb.