Penalties pursued in armed flying

Chris Joyner • [email protected] • June 28, 2008

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The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is pursuing civil penalties against three state workers who allegedly used bogus law enforcement credentials to bring guns aboard flights from Jackson earlier this year.

In a statement Friday, TSA spokesman Christopher White said the agency's investigation determined Mike Vick, former director of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety's Law Enforcement Liaison Office, and two co-workers took guns past TSA security at Jackson-Evers International Airport and flew to Portland, Ore.

The trio was stopped on April 16 by TSA officials in Portland when they tried to board armed for the return trip.

"Our review of the matter is currently ongoing. However, TSA's preliminary investigation determined that Mr. Vick and his colleagues should not have flown armed as they are not certified, full-time, sworn law enforcement officers by the state of Mississippi," White said. "As a result of this incident, TSA Jackson is conducting a civil penalty enforcement action against these individuals."

Penalties can be as much as $26,000, White said. He did not name Vick's two colleagues.

Vick could not be reached for comment. TSA would not identify his two colleagues.

Federal regulations only allow law enforcement officers to carry guns aboard planes and for a limited number of reasons, such as transporting a prisoner.

Regulations require picture identification and a letter from an "authorizing official" stating the need to fly armed.

Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson previously said Vick had taken TSA's training for flying armed and created his own credentials to bring a gun aboard his flight. Simpson said Vick and his colleagues were attending a training seminar in Portland and apparently did not need to fly armed, even if they were law enforcement officers.

The Law Enforcement Liaison Office is funded with a grant administered by the University of Southern Mississippi, making Vick a USM employee. The university has not said anything about the incident other than that Vick's employment ended May 31.

Vick also is a reserve deputy with the Hinds County Sheriff's Department, but Sheriff Malcolm McMillin has said Vick was not taking the trip to Oregon in that capacity.

USM spokeswoman Jana Bryant said late Friday she was unable to find out who the other people with Vick were and whether they also were university employees.

Earlier this month, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, Mississippi's 2nd District congressman, asked TSA Administrator Kip Hawley for an investigation and an explanation of steps to prevent such incidents.

For the past two years, The Clarion-Ledger has reported on security problems at the Jackson airport, including Jackson Mayor Frank Melton's armed flights in 2005 and 2006.

Melton brought personal guns aboard flights leaving Jackson and several airports around the nation by presenting a gold badge that reads "mayor" and a letter from then-Jackson Police Chief Shirlene Anderson calling Melton a police official. The airport also has come under scrutiny for allegations TSA officials circulated warnings of upcoming security tests.

White said Hawley has responded to Thompson's request, but the entire report has been classified as Sensitive Security Information and cannot be released.

However, White said, TSA is taking steps in Jackson to crack down on armed flights.

"The federal security director at Jackson has briefed all supervisory personnel at Jackson and connecting airports regarding the regulatory requirements for law enforcement officers to fly armed," he said.

"In addition, TSA personnel are collaborating with law enforcement officers that support TSA screening functions at all Mississippi airports to ensure these officers are fully aware of the requirements of officers flying armed."

The regulations do not require the airline or TSA to verify the need to fly armed or status as a legitimate law enforcement officer, so no disciplinary action would be taken against the screeners.

Congress twice has passed legislation requiring TSA to develop a registration program to positively identify law enforcement trying to fly armed. TSA has not complied.

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