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Officer Who Forcibly Removed Passenger From United Flight Last Year Sues Airline

An aviation security official who was fired after dragging a passenger off a United Airlines flight in Chicago last year is suing the airline and his former employer, the Chicago Department of Aviation, charging that he was not adequately trained for such a situation.

James Long was called to the plane in April 2017 after a passenger, Dr. David Dao, refused to give up his seat to a United employee on the Chicago-Louisville, Ky., flight.

As NPR's Camila Domonoske reported at the time, Dao, visibly bloodied in video taken by fellow passengers, was "violently wrenched from his seat and physically dragged down the aisle."

The incident turned into a public relations debacle for United. Long was fired in August, as was another officer involved in the incident. A third officer was reassigned, according to The Associated Press.

Dao said he sustained a broken nose and lost teeth in the incident. United apologized and later reached an undisclosed settlement with Dao.

Long's suit names United Airlines, the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) and its commissioner, Ginger Evans.

"But for the CDA's negligence and failure to train (Long) how to respond to an escalating situation with an airline passenger, (he) would not have acted in the manner he did, which resulted in his termination," according to the lawsuit.

It also alleges that in multiple tweets, Evans defamed Long, calling his actions "completely inappropriate" and saying that the CDA does not "arm security staff for good reason." The suit says such statements implied that Long "was not acting in his capacity as a police officer."

Representatives for United and the city declined to comment Wednesday, saying they had not received the lawsuit, according to the AP.

Separately, 300 aviation security officials have filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois saying they were "unfairly stripped of their law enforcement background," after the incident involving Dao, according to The Chicago Tribune.

The newspaper reports:

"Since 1993, the Chicago Aviation Police have been recognized by the state as law enforcement officers. Though they didn't carry firearms, the officers were required to graduate from the Chicago Police Academy or the Cook County Sheriff's Training Academy. They were sworn in as law enforcement officers by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board and they wore uniforms marked 'police.'

With state-sanctioned law enforcement officer status, they could supplement their incomes working part time as police officers in other jurisdictions, join other law enforcement agencies without retraining and get perks based on seniority."

In the federal complaint, "attorneys representing the security officers say those privileges became a casualty of political pressure," brought on by the 2017 incident involving the removal of Dao, according to the Tribune.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.

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