Lila Mae Bryan said she always packs a bottle of foaming hand soap in her carry-on suitcase when she flies because she doesn’t like the bar soap hotels usually provide their guests.
Bryan, 82, and her husband, Silas, 85, have flown around the country, she said, and no one checking luggage at the airports has ever told her that she couldn’t take her roughly 8-ounce bottle on the plane.
So she was surprised this week — and admittedly annoyed, she said — when a Transportation Security Administration officer doing a routine check of her carry-on bag at Eisenhower National Airport in Wichita pulled out her beloved bottle of soap and told her it wasn’t allowed on the flight.
What happened next, Bryan said, she now wishes she could undo: She shouted her frustration at the officer then stormed around into his workspace and, authorities say, struck him on the arm.
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Bryan was later booked into the Sedgwick County Jail and given a citation alleging she committed a misdemeanor battery against the 37-year-old officer. As of Friday, Wichita city prosecutors had not decided whether they will pursue the criminal charge.
The scuffle happened at 5:12 a.m. Wednesday. Bryan was jailed three hours after the alleged battery.
“I know I was wrong,” Bryan said, reached by phone at her Mesquite, Texas, home on Friday afternoon.
Exhaustion, she said, and not having taken medication she’s prescribed for bipolar disorder — coupled with what she feels is an inadequate explanation from the officer about why the soap was forbidden — caused her negative reaction.
“I just got so angry that he was treating me this way,” she said.
“If I had to do it over again, I’d just have said, ‘Take it and throw it away.’ ... I probably would’ve said something. But it wouldn’t have been nasty.”
Law enforcement and TSA reports say Bryan became upset and verbally abusive after she was told repeatedly she couldn’t take the soap onto the plane in her carry-on bag because it exceeded the 3.4-ounce size limit. Airport police detained her and authorized her arrest.
Bryan hit the officer’s “right arm with a closed fist,” a law enforcement report says. Bryan says she doesn’t remember striking the officer but was told she did so by witnesses.
In a statement e-mailed Friday afternoon, TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said the TSA officers at the scene “were professional and courteous in advising the passenger that the item is not allowed through the security checkpoint. The passenger escalated the situation and went behind the x-ray machine where she assaulted our officer.”
“We make every effort to provide a smooth screening experience and do so daily while screening millions of passengers. TSA officers’ primary goal is to keep travelers safe and secure,” Harmon said in the statement. “Threatening, assaulting, intimidating, or interfering with officers while they are performing screening duties is a violation of TSA security regulations, may constitute criminal conduct, and interferes with their ability to effectively protect the public.”
The TSA officer did not have any visible injuries, according to law enforcement reports.
“I wanted to apologize afterward, but they (airport police) wouldn’t let me” after being detained, Bryan said.
She said the airport police officer told her she would be booked into jail instead. This was her first arrest.
“I think it was probably an overreaction,” she said.
Bryan said she was handcuffed while law enforcement transported her from the airport to the jail. After she arrived, she spent nearly two hours in the jail’s booking area and was photographed and fingerprinted before being freed.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Thursday that after the airline Bryan and her husband were set to fly on contacted his office about her arrest, his staff went to the jail and authorized her immediate release. She did not have to post any bond.
Southwest Airlines arranged for Bryan’s husband to be taken to the Sedgwick County Courthouse, where he was reunited with his wife. The airline then returned the couple to the airport, where they boarded a later flight back home.
Wichita City Attorney and Director of Law Jennifer Magana said Friday that her office is still reviewing the allegations against Bryan and could make a decision about whether to pursue prosecution of the battery charge next week.
Bryan said she and her husband were in Kansas to attend her 65-year high school reunion in Beloit and to check on a new tenant that operates a farm she owns in the area. She said when she flew into Wichita from Dallas she had the bottle of soap that caused the stir in her carry-on bag.
Surveillance video of the incident viewed by The Eagle on Friday morning shows Bryan confronting the TSA officer after he removes the bottle from a suitcase and places it on a table. In the video — which does not include audio — she pounds a fist in her palm and points at the officer before grabbing a purse and what appears to be paperwork and walking around an X-ray screening belt into the officer’s work area.
Bryan, in the video, appears to ignore commands directing her to return to the public area. She approaches the officer and appears to make physical contact with him, before another TSA officer intervenes.
After she is separated from the TSA officer and is no longer involved in a physical altercation, an airport police officer steps up, grabs her arm and yanks her away from the work area, the video shows.
A request for comment from the airport police and fire department about the police officer’s interaction with the woman was referred to the city’s law department. Magana could not be reached for comment on that issue late Friday afternoon.
TSA officials had scheduled a news conference Friday afternoon at the airport to release the video of the incident. They later canceled the event and refused to release the video, saying in an e-mail: “We had planned to respect the passenger’s privacy by not releasing her name and blurring her face. But her name and picture have appeared in the media, and we don’t feel it’s appropriate to release the video now that she’s been identified.”