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Screeners Find Gun in Bag of Antiterror Chief

The LAPD's John Miller says he forgot about the weapon. Bratton calls incident embarrassing.

September 24, 2004|Jennifer Oldham and andrew blankstein | Times Staff Writers

The city's top antiterrorism official was detained at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday after screeners found a loaded .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun in his carry-on bag, a violation of federal rules that prohibit civilians from carrying weapons aboard aircraft.

John Miller was questioned by the federal Transportation Security Administration after a screener at a security checkpoint in Terminal 1 saw the gun in his black computer bag via an X-ray machine. Miller was traveling to New York with his wife and daughter.

Miller, who is authorized to carry the firearm, said he forgot that the department-issued gun was in the bag, according to Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton.

"It was embarrassing for him, certainly embarrassing for his family, and embarrassing, to be quite frank with you, for the department," Bratton said at a late-afternoon news conference at Parker Center.

Airport police, an independent agency that the LAPD is campaigning to gain control of, confiscated the gun but allowed Miller to continue his trip to tape a farewell message to Barbara Walters, who is retiring soon as co-anchor of the ABC newsmagazine "20/20." Miller, who has interviewed Osama bin Laden, was co-anchor of the program with Walters before Bratton picked him to head the city's antiterror effort in 2003.

The TSA, which was created by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to boost aviation security and which manages screeners at the nation's airports, is investigating the matter, said Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman. The agency can levy a fine of up to $10,000 for taking a firearm through a security checkpoint, he said.

"There is no exception for police officers or people with a [concealed weapons permit] to travel on airplanes with weapons unless the police officer is traveling on duty and has a letter from his or her agency authorizing them to travel on an airplane," said Larry Fetters, the TSA's federal security director at LAX.

Fetters said he would recommend that his agency issue a "letter of warning" to Miller but no fine.

Bratton said that although the incident was an embarrassment, it showed that airport security works.

Miller isn't the only high-ranking official to be caught with an undeclared firearm at an airport security checkpoint.

Last month, Indiana Republican Rep. John N. Hostettler, who was stopped with a loaded gun in his briefcase by security at Louisville International Airport, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed deadly weapon. Hostettler agreed to give up the weapon in exchange for a suspended 60-day sentence.

Last fall, screeners at Detroit Metropolitan Airport found a loaded .25-caliber handgun in then-Detroit Police Chief Jerry Oliver's checked baggage. Oliver said he was unaware that such firearms must be packed in a locked case and declared to the airline, the TSA said.

Since February 2002, the TSA has confiscated more than 2,000 guns at airport security checkpoints.

Fetters said Miller is often at the airport moving in and out of secure areas and is an "integral" part of protecting the airport.

"I don't perceive any ill intent on his part," Fetters said. "It doesn't alarm or concern me other than I don't want him to do it again."

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