Trial scheduled for airport skirmish over applesauce

DOWNTOWN — A 58-year-old Camarillo woman is scheduled to stand trial Monday for allegedly hitting a federal security agent at Bob Hope Airport who attempted to take her ailing mother’s applesauce and other snacks.

Prosecutors charged Nadine Kay Hays, who was traveling to Nashville, Tenn., with her 93-year-old mother, with misdemeanor battery following the altercation with the Transportation Security Administration agent last April.

Hays denied striking the agent, arguing that she merely brought down her hand to keep agents from taking away her ailing mother’s applesauce, cheeses and milk.

“I am not going to plead guilty to something I didn’t do. I’m a person of character,” said Hays, whose mother passed away last month. “I end up reliving this disaster every spare moment of my life. You just flash back and you see these scenes over and over.”

The case has been ridiculed by talk-radio hosts, who railed against the agents involved and challenged how confiscating a disabled woman’s applesauce would improve national security. Denny Wei, a prosecutor in the Burbank City Attorney’s office, declined to comment on the case, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

TSA spokeswoman Suzanne Trevino also declined comment, citing a policy of not discussing pending litigation.

Bob Hope Airport police responded at about 12:55 p.m. to the security checkpoint in Terminal B, where TSA supervisor Tanya Atkens told officers that Hays made a fist and struck her on the hand as they tugged at an ice chest containing the snacks, according to the arrest report.

Airport screener Testad Tetteh refused to allow Hays to take the cooler, citing oversized and prohibited liquids. But Hays maintained that her wheelchair-bound mother’s medical condition required access to the provisions during the flight.

Her lawyer, Mary Frances Prevost, said the agency permits liquids to people with medical conditions and disabilities, so long as they declare everything over three ounces to agents.

“She had every right to bring what she had with her on board and TSA regulations that are all over the Internet show that to be true,” Prevost said. “Instead, two ignorant agents, rather than taking a look at the regulations, grabbed the cooler.”

Agents told Hays she had to surrender the food and beverages or transfer them to her check-in luggage. Tetteh then started removing the items from the cooler, according to court records.

As Hays informed the agents about her mother’s condition, she allegedly became “uncooperative and was yelling” at the TSA screener, according to the arrest report. Hays told Atkens that she should at least be allowed to store the food in cargo so it would be available when they arrived.

While the report states that Hays struck Atkens, surveillance footage in a video posted on the Internet shows Atkens standing off to the side as Hays engaged in a tug-of-war with Tetteh, Prevost said.

After Hays wrestled away the ice chest, she walked over to a trash bin, emptied the contents of the cooler and informed the agents that she was holding them responsible for her mother’s well being.

Hays, who along with her mother and a caregiver were scheduled to fly into Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and then onto Nashville, Tenn. for her nephew’s wedding, was told that she was a threat to other passengers and made to wait until officers arrived.

She was arrested and transported to the Burbank Police Jail.

So far, Hays said she has spent several thousand dollars on legal bills and an additional $2,600 on airfare from Los Angeles International Airport to the wedding, Hays said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Applegate on Monday is also scheduled to take up a motion to dismiss the charges at the same time the trial is to get underway. Court records show that subpoenas filed by the defense to produce video footage from other angles of the airport terminal, personnel files of the TSA agents involved and any complaints against them have been unsuccessful.

“They would never do this in San Diego,” said Prevost of the zeal shown by prosecutors. “They would dump this so fast. When you got people who only deal with misdemeanors, sometimes they tend to deal with them like death penalty cases.”

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