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‘They just screwed me’: Ex-judge wants TSA to pay for rejecting rifle, ruining hunting trip

A retired judge in Michigan wants the Transportation Security Administration to reimburse him $1,000 after an agent rejected his rifle case, ruining his planned hunting trip in Georgia.

Steven Servaas, a 72-year-old retired judge from Kent County, is demanding to be compensated following the Oct. 19 incident at Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford International Airport outside of Grand Rapids, where Servaas claims a TSA agent wrongly rejected the case containing a hunting rifle he planned to check along with his luggage, MLive.com reports.

“They just screwed me,” Servaas said. “They’re supposed to protect and serve, just like the police. Sometimes they forget the serve part. And I don’t think they do much good at protecting either.”

Servaas, in a Nov. 2 letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske, claimed he previously brought the same gun and case to the airport and was allowed to fly. During the incident last month, a TSA supervisor left the lock on the case before unhooking some of its clips and pulling its two sides apart “about one inch,” according to Servaas’ letter.

“I can see your gun,” the agent replied, according to Servaas’ version of events.

Servaas said he was initially told that he needed two locks on the case, but it only provided space for one mechanism. He claims the gun could not be removed from the locked case, although guidelines for transporting firearms and ammunition on the TSA’s website states that gun cases “must completely secure the firearm” from being accessed.

“Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted,” the website reads. “Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage.”

An accompanying video of travel tips for flying with firearms does not cite the need for multiple locks, although it advises travelers to “be sure to us all available lock tabs when securing” the weapon.

The TSA agent at the time suggested Servaas leave the airport and return with a suitable case for a second inspection, but the former judge was unable to do so since he flight was scheduled to depart in 30 minutes.

“They just basically blew the vacation off,” Servaas said. “The guy thought he was doing something good.”

Servaas said he was angered that the agent’s decision to reject his case didn’t match determinations made by TSA employees during previous trips.

“I don’t see how you can comply with the regulations unless they are applied consistently,” he said. “How am I supposed to know this isn’t going to go through when it’s gone through six times before?”

Servaas now wants a $1,000 check to reimburse his losses for the missed flight and hunting trip, as well as more consistent enforcement of TSA guidelines.

“My hope is the agency starts to encourage its representatives to have a more helpful attitude when dealing with flyers who have a problem caused by the TSA itself (my case) or a misunderstanding of its rules,” Servaas wrote. “I think it is too easy for the agents to sometimes forget they work to protect and serve flyers who use the airport.”

TSA spokesman Michael McCarthy said the agency will formally respond to all complaints, although Servaas told MLive.com that he has yet to receive a response to his letter. McCarthy said firearms and ammunition to be checked on flight must meet strict policies and be stored in cases that cannot be easily opened.

“Travelers may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only,” McCarthy said. “The firearm must be in a hard-sided container that is locked. A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be pulled open with little effort cannot be brought aboard the aircraft.”

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