The People Who Dragged Dr. Dao Off Plane Were Imposter Police Officers?!

Filed Under: Security/TSA

In early April, Dr. Dao was dragged off a United flight from Chicago O’Hare by officers wearing uniforms that clearly said “Police” on them. This quickly became the biggest story in the country, as it struck a nerve with so many people, and summed up the abuse of power that we’ve seen in the airline industry for so long.

Due to the public outrage, within a few weeks United revealed policy changes they were making as a result of the incident, and also reached a settlement with Dr. Dao. The settlement precluded Dr. Dao from suing the airport, and specifically, the officers who dragged him off the plane. I suspect United’s motive for adding that clause is that they wanted the public attention of this case to die as quickly as possible, and they knew it would drag on if there were another case with the airport authority.

Now it has been a few months since the incident, and the Chicago Department of Aviation has made some very interesting revelations about the incident. The New York Times notes even though Dr. Dao was dragged off the plane by three people wearing black uniforms that said “Police” on them, they weren’t actually police officers:

But on Wednesday, more than three months after the episode, the Chicago Department of Aviation conceded that their security officers were not actually police officers and that the uniforms had been “improperly” marked. It vowed to remove the word from uniforms, vehicles and other insignia in the coming months.

How the heck do you “improperly” mark uniforms, vehicles, etc.?!

The Chicago Department of Aviation conceded that this was a “completely unacceptable” sequence of events, and that going forward, airport security officers will only be asked to board planes if directed to do so by the police:

Under a new “directive,” airport security officers like those who removed the passenger, Dr. David Dao, will be sent onto planes only to respond to a disturbance when Chicago Police requests them. A city ordinance that will go into effect this month will also — with a few exceptions — prevent security officers from removing passengers from an aircraft, said Lauren Huffman, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation.

“Really, it should be law enforcement that is boarding a plane in most situations,” Ms. Huffman said in a telephone interview. “There perhaps was some internal confusion of roles,” she said, citing the old policy documents. “And we want to be clear to the public.”

I wonder what would have happened if actual law enforcement officers had boarded the plane, rather than the airport security staff. I’m not sure the result would have necessarily been all that different, since the police would likely have enforced United’s desire to have the passenger removed. Whether or not they would have used such a level of force, though…

(Tip of the hat to @pir8z40)

  1. I plan on buying a refundable ticket on for July 22, and spend all day at the Admirals Club using my Citi Prestige card. Who’s with me in this act of Solidarity ?

  2. Hmm, I wonder if this revelation might invalidate the “with prejudice” immunity that UAL got by virtue of the settlement agreement. After all, the clear presumption was these were sworn city police officers and not some security guards or airline staff disguised as sworn officers.

    Then again, maybe that is why UAL paid so much in the first place.

  3. “Whether or not they would have used such a level of force,” you’re right, real police would have just shot him. bang bang

  4. How can this be legal? Even if Dr Dao has given away the right to take the airport to court, there must be some authority to take this matter further?? Impersonating a police officer must be an offence…

  5. I remember when this story came out originally, there were a bunch of commentators who more or less took the stance of “well if he had just obeyed the instructions of law enforcement, then he wouldn’t have gotten hurt” to insinuate that the way Dr. Dao was removed was justified.

    I wonder what excuse they will fall back on now that it’s been revealed these guys were just a bunch of power hungry rent-a-cops.

  6. @Martin probably the latter. Chicago is strange in that the airport security workers were called Police. This was not some improper marking but rather that has been Ohare has been doing it for years. They had tasers but not firearms and were represented by a union. I am pretty sure it was assumed they had policing powers. There were also armed police officers assigned to ohare as well. Before the Dr Dao incident there was a push to have these “officers” armed. Obviously since that incident it has gone the other direction. Here is a link to a article better explaining the issue.

  7. The city of Chicago allowed them to call themselves officers. They were not impersonating officers as the city allowed all members of the airport aviation security force (non police) to refer to themselves as police. I disagree with blaming the officers. It’s not like they bought police uniforms on their own. The fault lies on the city for giving them the authority, uniform and badges to make them look like cops. These “officers” are city employees for the record.

  8. “airline staff disguised as sworn officers” …!!! @Martin, REALLY…??? Really…??? #really …

  9. @Jerry, I would join you, but I’m located in DFW. So I would rather go to the Centurion lounge.

  10. Well we’ve known they weren’t officers for years. The only news is CDA finally admitted it!

  11. @Andy
    Not perfect but I can’t think of a better country on the planet. Forget N. Korea or Syria, trying living in any country in Europe and get back to me. Ignorance is bliss….

  12. That explains alot. These were minimum wage security “officers”. The same kind of security “officers” who staff parking booths … mostly high school dropouts with no training and are most likely stoned (I know, my son was one of them …).

    All clear ….. I feel safer already! Ha!

  13. I am curious–regardless of who removed him–what is it everyone thinks SHOULD have happened? As I understand it, the good doctor was legitimately told he had to leave the plane (again, after having left once), and he not only refused, but actively fought those trying to remove him. There was a full plane of people who needed to get where they were going, make their connections, etc. (I’m not interested in debating United’s clearly flawed method for selecting who had to leave, or the problems with over booking. They were well within their legal rights to ask any given passenger to give up their seat.) As I heard it, he’d been promised the max in cash/tix that the GA was authorized to give him (which I know is now up to 10k, but was not then). In United’s place, at that time, what should they do?
    Am I the only one more mortified by a passenger flatly refusing to obey a legal direction and then FIGHTING the “officers” who tried to remove him? I really wish there had been some public outcry about HIS behavior.

  14. @Leon
    A few years ago, the BBC did a full day special around the world asking if people wanted to visit the US, and also whether they would move from their country to the US. The same question was asked to Americans, do you think people from these countries want to move to the US? The outcome of the event was 1) a majority of people wanted to visit the US, 2) quite a few wanted to move to the US, but 3) most people preferred their own home country to the US. The thing that caught my eye was the huge overestimation by Americans of the desire of other country nationals to move here. Being originally from the UK, I know I rather like my old country ….
    (Wish I could find the website of the BBC special where the data were presented)

  15. How can it be possibly be legal to even wear an uniform marked ‘Police’ if the wearer is not a actually a sworn-in, trained policeman or policewoman ? It is sad that this incident had to happen in order to change the ruling but I am happy to see that Aviation security officers will be stripped of the right to call themselves Police in name and in markings.

  16. @mbh you are abdolutely incorrect. Once the passenger is on the plane he cannot be legally removedmwithjout a cause. He was not denied boardin, but removed ost boarding, in violation of the contrsct of carriage. Stop repeating uninformed nonsense.

  17. I had a friend who was on that flight. They said he actually left (the aircraft) and took their offer. Then when realizing he wasn’t going to get there until tomorrow rushed back on the plane and took his seat. Now if someone does this it is a security breech under FAA mandates. My buddy is a lawyer and claims neither party handled it well.

  18. This could lead to a new lawsuit as I’m sure these contract officers worked for another company..

  19. @troy Schwab

    I call BS. There’s no such report in the news. And with so many passengers, we would have heard of this already. Is your “friend” a big airline with the initials UA and trying to perpetuate fake news to make itself look better?

    According to news outlets:

    Three passengers agreed and left the plane, but Dr Dao refused, saying he worked at a hospital and needed to see patients the next day.

  20. @ Andy…the city gave them the authority to call themselves police officer. Doing any small amount of research online can give you more information on this. @ Everyone…of course it is a crime to impersonate a police officer. But that is not what happened here. The City of Chicago is 100% to blame for creating a grey environment on these employees status. They bought the uniforms and badges. Its not like these employees went out on their own and bought these items. You can read the link above in the comments if you want more information or look it up on google. I think the Chicago Tribune article is much better on this issue than the NYT article. Here is the link.

  21. @Tj gragg…they do not. They are city employees and are paid much higher than minimum wage as suggested.

  22. @leonr lol r u crazy? just look north canada is leaps and bounds and more evolved than the US is every way so are most countries in Europe.

  23. @MBH Even United has agreed they were on the wrong and the order they gave him was illegal. United contract of carriage only covers denied boarding, it does not cover deplaning an already boarded passenger. WHy are you beating a dead horse?

  24. Its a felony to impersonate a police officer. Are people ever going to be held responsible for sending people who clearly were not properly trained into an airplane and allowing them to use force on passengers while wearing police uniforms when we now know they are in fact not police officers? Do they even have the legal authority to do what they did or was this a gang assault?

  25. This pretty much just adds to the idea that Chicago is a terribly mismanaged, third-world, hellhole.

    To all of you who spend your day calling our President nicknames, maybe take a look at the cities you and yours are responsible for. It’s not a pretty sight.

  26. “It vowed to remove the word from uniforms, vehicles and other insignia in the coming months.”

    Sorry, not good enough. I feel really nauseous right now and smell a multi-milliondollar legal settlement against that disgusting airport. This truly sickening episode just got even sicker.

    People: this is the crap you might expect to happen from a goon squad in a tinpot dictatorship. Fake cops enforcing some dumbass company’s baloney.

  27. @Selma, he took the offer initially, but when he found out he was not going to get out until the next day, he changed his mind. This was reported widely. He did not, however, leave the plane.

    Seems like the issue here is how uniforms were marked. Surely nobody is suggesting that the airline had anything to do with O’Hare airport security wearing the word ‘police’ on their uniform.
    Also, if I had to choose between having a confrontation with private security personel and a police officer, I’d probably choose the former.

  28. If they were real Chicago police the airport probably would have been in RAP status and no one would have showed up for hours.

  29. @William Y

    Like are President, you just blindly spew forth ignorance and lies without having any clue as to what you’re talking about. Chicago is a magnificent city. It’s cultural offerings and dining venues are world class. I could easily spend a weekend just gawking at the architecture. And I’m smiling just thinking about strolling along the lake shore at sunset on a hot summer evening. Truly beautiful.

    The great liberal cities of the US are, indeed, very pretty sights. I’ve lived in four of them (Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston) throughout the years so I actually know what I’m talking about. They are the shining enclaves of civilization in the wasteland that Trump is creating.

  30. @J Dee
    I’v lived in three countries and visited 12 others and I wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. But my point stands even if none of that was true. If life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are part of your values system, than IMO there’s no where better. Not perfect, but no where better

    @Jay Since Canada is leaps and bounds better perhaps Im missing something in the news. Where are there thousands of people trying to escape into Canada on a yearly basis to escape poverty and live a better life?

  31. @Ben

    If you will recall, I pointed out right away that these WERE NOT police officers, but rather hired ‘muscle’.

    The open question remains what function these individuals have and why the Airport feels the need to keep them on staff?? The saddest part of the settlement is that the real story will never come out– what is their job, who hires them and why can a flustered gate agent call them to rough up the customers?

  32. @Leon Well, using the same detailed arguments you provided, I believe both Australia & New Zealand – & maybe Canada – have it all over the US as better places to live

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