Danville Express

Newsfront - July 27, 2007

Put off by pat downs

Danville couple disappointed by decision upholding 49ersí right to search park entrants

by Jordan M. Doronila

A Danville couple expressed their chagrin over a recent state appeals court decision that upholds a San Francisco 49ers' policy to perform pat-down searches on ticket holders.

Daniel and Kathleen Sheehan sued the football team for invasion of privacy in the fall of 2005 after the 49ers implemented a pat down search policy on all ticket holders entering a game at Monster Park that year, according to court documents. The new policy was part of the National Football League's efforts to increase safety in light of Sept. 11.

The California Court of Appeal ruled last week in a 2-1 decision that the Sheehans waived their privacy rights when they decided to buy football tickets for the 2005 and 2006 season while knowing in advance of the search policy. Also, the 49ers are well within their rights to conduct searches because they are a private entity and not a government agency, justices said.

"I'm disappointed," said Daniel Sheehan. "I don't think I have to relinquish by civil liberties to go to a football game."

"You don't know what they (screeners) touched," he added. "They could be spreading something. That doesn't make sense."

However, Justices Ignazio J. Ruvolo and Timothy A. Reardon said they made a fair decision. The Sheehans' claim fails because they could not show any reasonable expectation of privacy when they went to the games.

"The Sheehans urge us to reverse the judgment because the trial court misapplied the relevant law, excluding pertinent factors from its decision," wrote the justices, who were in favor of the policy. "We disagree. The trial court correctly ruled that the Sheehans' Privacy Initiative claim fails because they cannot show reasonable expectation of privacy under the pertinent circumstances."

But Justice Maria Rivera dissented.

"In my view, the courtsí role in protecting privacy rights should not be so readily abdicated, particularly where, as here, the private actor has an effective monopoly," she wrote. "If you are the only game in town, requiring your customers to either submit to a pat-down search or walk away does not present the kind of genuine choice upon which the majorityís reasoning is premised."

At Monster Park, private screeners performed the pat downs, and they were instructed by the NFL mandate to physically inspect ticket holders by "touching, patting, or lightly rubbing" them as they entered the stadium.

Daniel and Kathleen Sheehan were season ticket holders and experienced the searches throughout the 2005 season before each game. Daniel vociferously expressed his dismay over the pat downs because they encroached on his privacy.

The Sheehans filed suit when the 49ersí football season was over. Their hope was that the football team would stop its pat downs. The 49ers have conducted thousands of searches with cooperative fans, team officials said.

Nonetheless, Sheehan expressed concern what his grandchild is learning from being searched.

"Here's this little kid who is voluntarily going out (at Monster Park) so they can frisk him," he said. "What is he learning from this?"

Contact Jordan M. Doronila at jdoronila@DanvilleWeekly.com


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