DES MOINES - Cecilia Beaman is a 57-year-old grandmother, a principal at Pacific Middle School in Des Moines, and as of Sunday is also a suspected terrorist.
"This is not right," she told us. It's not right!"
This past weekend she and several other chaperones took 37 middle school students to a Heritage Festival band competition in California. The trip included two days at Disneyland.
During the stay she made sandwiches for the kids and was careful to pack the knives she used to prepare those sandwiches in her checked luggage. She says she even alerted security screeners that the knives were in her checked bags and they told her that was OK.
But Beaman says she couldn't find a third knife. It was a 5 1/2 inch bread knife with a rounded tip and a serrated edge. She thought she might have lost or misplaced it during the trip.
On the trip home, screeners with the Transportation Security Administration at Los Angeles International Airport found it deep in the outside pocket of a carry-on cooler. Beaman apologized and told them it was a mistake.
"You've committed a felony," Beaman says a security screener announced. "And you're considered a terrorist."
Beaman says she was told her name would go on a terrorist watch-list and that she would have to pay a $500 fine.
"I'm a 57-year-old woman who is taking care of 37 kids," she told them. "I'm not gonna commit a terrorist act." Beaman says they took information from her Washington drivers license and confiscated and photographed the knife according to standard operating procedure.
She says screeners refused to give her paperwork or documentation of her violation, documentation of the pending fine, or a copy of the photograph of the knife.
"They said 'no' and they said it's a national security issue. And I said what about my constitutional rights? And they said 'not at this point ... you don't have any'."
KOMO News did reach a spokesperson with the Transportation Security Administration for comment. They said they did not have record of Beaman's confrontation but did admit that TSA screeners are, by design, becoming more strict.
Despite continued warnings to passengers, TSA screeners say travelers continue to bring banned items in their carry-on luggage. Knives, guns, and other weapons are found and confiscated daily.
Fines issued for knives and other sharp objects range from $250 to $1,500. Fines issued for firearms discovered in carry-on luggage range from $1,500 to $7,500.
The TSA web site also indicates firearms violations will be referred for potential criminal prosecution. The same site does not propose the same criminal referral for knives like the one Cecilia Beaman was carrying.
"This is not the way my country should be treating me," she said. My concern is that if that's the way they're treating American citizens I would hate to think how they're treating other people. It's crazy."
The TSA reminds travelers that is has the authority to impose civil penalties up to $10,000 per violation.
"TSA needs the help of the traveling public in reducing the number of prohibited items brought to airport screening checkpoints," reads the Sanction Guidelines section of the TSA web site. "TSA recognizes that most passengers who carry prohibited items do so without any ill intent. TSA does not impose fines on the vast number of passengers who inadvertently carry prohibited items. Dealing with any prohibited item, however, adds time to the screening process both for the traveler who brought the item and for other travelers as well."
You can find a complete list of banned items, range of fines levied for violations, and information on how to plead your case with the TSA at www.tsa.gov.