Two Transportation Security Administration officers have been placed on leave after a racist display was found inside a TSA workstation at Miami International Airport.
Three TSA officers discovered two stuffed gorillas tied together and hanging with a noose on July 21, according to four TSA employees with knowledge of the situation and a picture obtained by CNN.
A TSA employee with knowledge of the situation told CNN the display was hanging from a “pole right in the center of the TSA workstation located underneath the airport where passengers’ checked luggage is screened before being placed on aircraft.”
The three officers notified their manager, but according to an employee with knowledge of the situation, the manager “tried to downplay the noose and gorilla display, saying it wasn’t racist, it was just a joke.” The manager’s reaction further upset the three officers, the TSA employee said.
According to an internal email obtained by CNN, the incident prompted the agency to launch an internal investigation, and two officers have since been placed on leave.
The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security sent a letter to TSA on Tuesday, urging the agency to make sure the incident is “promptly and thoroughly investigated,” and that those involved are “held accountable for their actions.”
Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson wrote reports indicating local management did not take the incident seriously is “unacceptable and leaves TSOs to work in an environment where they believe they are not supported or protected.”
A veteran Miami TSA officer who asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation said he was upset about the incident, which he says has many of Miami International Airport’s black and Hispanic TSA officers distraught.
“The mood now at the airport is people are upset this hasn’t been properly taken care of yet. We want everybody held accountable for what they have done,” the officer said.
In a statement, the TSA said the display was immediately removed once reported and that an investigation was launched into who was responsible for the “unacceptable behavior.”
“TSA does not tolerate racist or offensive behavior and those found responsible will be held accountable for their actions,” Jenny Burke, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in a statement. “Two TSA officers have been placed on administrative leave while the investigation is ongoing.”
In the internal email obtained by CNN that was sent six days after the incident, TSA’s acting deputy administrator Patricia Cogswell writes to other high-ranking TSA officials that “given the number of emails and such coming in to HQ about the MIA situation, please pull together a message for SO (senior officers) to issue, and think about other information that should go out to all offices.”
After deliberations about the best way to communicate with the workforce about the incident, executive assistant administrator for security operations Darby Lajoye sent an email saying, “We’ve been made aware of an extremely troubling event in Miami this week involving a racially charged, disturbing display that cuts at the very core of who we are and what we stand for as an agency.”
The email goes on to say, “TSA has zero tolerance for acts like this. We have already ordered an independent investigation and all individuals potentially involved have been placed on Administrative leave while the investigation is underway.”
The emails did not name the individuals involved.