This case is a frightening example of what can happen when a photographer encounters ignorant bullies with badges. According to the complaint filed in Federal Court, Nancy Genovese, a mother of three, was driving home on County Road 31 past Gabreski Airport in Suffolk County. Gabreski Airport displays a decorative helicopter shell by the roadway to the public, which is visible to all who pass by.
Nancy Genovese stopped her car on the side of the road across the street from the airport in an area that is open and accessible to the public, and crossed over the road to the airport entryway that is also open and accessible to the public to take a picture of the helicopter display. While still in her car, she took a picture of the decorative helicopter shell with the intention of posting it on her personal “Support Our Troops” web page.
As Nancy Genovese was preparing to drive away, she was stopped and approached by Robert Iberger, a lieutenant with the Southampton Town Police. Lieutenant Iberger demanded to know why she was taking photographs. Nancy showed the lieutenant her camera, but Lieutenant Iberger grabbed her camera and handled it “without care”. In an attempt to prevent the lieutenant from damaging the camera, Nancy removed her memory card, which Lieutenant Iberger confiscated. To date, Nancy’s memory card still has not been returned to her.
Lieutenant Iberger demanded that Nancy remain where she is, and he refused to allow her to leave. At this time, Lieutenant Iberger notified the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office and the authorities at Gabreski Airport of Nancy’s presence outside the airport, and falsely and wrongfully informed them that she posed a terrorist threat.
Suffolk County Deputy Sheriff Robert Carlock responded to the scene, along with various members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office. When Deputy Carlock arrived, he placed cameras on the roof of his vehicle, aimed at Nancy Genovese and her 18 and 20 year old sons who had come to the scene at this point to help their mother. Deputy Carlock ordered all three of them to stand directly in front of the cameras, and not to move.
Officials from the airport, as well as other local and federal law enforcement agencies also responded, including, without limitation, the Southampton Police Department, the Westhampton Police Department, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. Nancy was questioned on the side of the road for approximately five to six hours, from about 6pm until midnight, denied food or water, and denied the opportunity to use a restroom, all without having received any warnings as to her rights.
Nancy Genovese also had a left lower leg injury just above her ankle that she had received earlier in the day and which, exacerbated by the stress and length of her roadside detention, was causing her to limp. When the officers saw this, they ordered her to expose her wound, which was bleeding, for no legitimate purpose, and with no regard for Nancy’s health or well-being. Members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office used Nancy’s leg wound as another object to taunt her with, telling her that they were going to arrest her for an unreported knife wound.
Here’s where the story takes an interesting twist, and why I believe Nancy’s situation hasn’t received more press coverage. Before arriving at the airport to take a picture, earlier that day Nancy had been to the local shooting range with her rifle practicing her hobby, target shooting. During the first hour of questioning, Lieutenant Iberger searched Nancy’s vehicle, without her consent, and came across her unloaded rifle, which Nancy was legally carrying, in a locked case. Now some people throw up their arms (no pun intended) at this point, and say, “what does she want, she brought a rifle to the airport!”, but I would like to remind everyone that it is perfectly legal to drive around with an unloaded rifle in your car. Yes. Really. And Nancy did not enter the airport, she was parked alongside a public roadway. It is important to remember that no matter how you feel about firearms, nothing that Nancy did violated any laws.
Using force, Lieutenant Iberger pushed Nancy Genovese when she objected to the seizure of her rifle. Deputy Carlock taunted Nancy, asking in a disparaging tone, “You’re a real right winger, aren’t you?”, and stating in words or substance that she was never going to see her rifle again.
During the remainder of the six hours that Nancy Genovese was forcibly detained on the side of the road, she was taunted, verbally harangued, threatened, belittled, abused, humiliated and harassed by members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office. For example, Deputy Carlock repeatedly referred to Nancy as “a right winger” and “tea bagger”, and threatened that they were going to arrest her for terrorism to make an example of her to other “tea baggers” and “right wingers”.
Around midnight, officials from the airport and federal law enforcement agencies determined that Nancy posed no terrorist or other security threat. Once most of the other law enforcement officials left the scene, Deputy Carlock ordered Nancy Genovese to be handcuffed by another member of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office. Before placed in handcuffs, Nancy attempted to give her purse containing her wallet and cell phone to her sons. Her wallet contained approximately $13,000 in cash, money she was holding to pay tuition that day for her son’s college and her daughter’s Catholic school tuition. Deputy Carlock refused to allow her sons to take her bag, and ordered her to leave it on the front seat of her unlocked vehicle, even after being informed of the value of its contents. When Nancy’s sons objected, Deputy Carlock threatened to arrest them if they touched it, and ordered them to leave the scene. Not knowing what to do, they left.