Airport stripper contests $1,000 fine

Airport stripper contests $1,000 fine
In this April 17, 2012, photo taken at Portland International Airport, shows John E. Brennan standing naked after he stripped down while going through a security screening area, as a protest against airport security procedures. (AP Photo/Brian Reilly)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon man who stripped naked at Portland International Airport to protest a security check — and became an Internet celebrity because of the disrobing — went to court Tuesday to contest the federal government's proposal to fine him $1,000.

The Transportation Security Administration is fining 50-year-old John Brennan for interfering with the security screening process when he stripped — an act recorded by smartphones and relayed on the Internet.

Representing TSA at the hearing, attorney Susan Conn argued that Brennan's actions posed a security threat.

Brennan's lawyer, Robert Callahan, said his client shouldn't be held responsible for TSA's decision to momentarily stop security checks, which he called "unnecessary."

In his own testimony, Brennan said he had contacted airport authorities prior to the incident to ask if Oregon's liberal rules on public nudity applied at the airport. He was told they did.

On April 17, 2012, Brennan arrived at the airport intending to take a business trip to San Jose, Calif. At the time, he was a web development manager and worked with groups in Silicon Valley. He said he flew out of the airport about once a month.

When Brennan reached the gate, he refused to go through the airport's body scanners, instead choosing the alternative body pat-down.

During the screening Brennan began narrating the pat-down, TSA officer Steven Van Gordon testified.

"It was a descriptive kind of thing: 'He's now touching my collar,'" Van Gordon said.

He said Brennan was not disruptive or uncooperative.

"In all the many pat-downs I've done, I found this a unique experience," Van Gordon said.

Brennan testified that he narrates every pat-down.

"It provides a degree of comfort for me," he said.

After the pat-down, Van Gordon said he detected nitrates on the gloves he used to check Brennan.

Brennan told The Associated Press prior to the hearing that he had for months felt angst every time he went through security, and the nitrate detection was the final straw for him.

So he took off all his clothes.

Three airport security lanes were momentarily shut down while airport workers moved carts stacked high with gray bins around a naked Brennan to block him from public view. At this point, the police were called.

Van Gordon said the security check was never completed.

Port of Portland Police Officer Brian Cotter, who works at the airport, said he asked Brennan to put on his clothes. When Brennan refused a second time, Cotter arrested him.

Cotter said Brennan told him that day that he was "tired of being hassled."

George Jordan, the administrative law judge hearing the case, says he'll rule later on Brennan's challenge to the TSA fine.

Last year a Multnomah County judge found Brennan not guilty of indecent exposure, ruling that his act was one of symbolic protest and therefore, protected speech.

Brennan says he does not regret his actions but it has come at a cost. He said that he lost his job and has had difficulty finding work since.

On the other hand, he's become a local celebrity, dubbed the Naked American Hero by some.

"People I don't know give me high-fives in the grocery store," he told the AP in a Monday interview. "I've become a symbol of what people have wanted to do for years."

Brennan said he's taken several domestic and international flights since he disrobed in 2012. Each time he opts out of the full-body scan.