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US ‘dark skin’ damages

Washington, Aug. 3 (PTI): In the first settlement of its kind, an Indian-origin doctor has won $50,000 in damages and a written apology from a US government agency in a suit alleging that he was detained by air marshals on a flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia on August 31 “solely because of his dark skin”.

The transportation security administration, a wing of the homeland security department, has agreed to change its procedures, pay Dr Bob Rajcoomar $50,000 in damages and have its administrator, retired coastguard Admiral James Loy, issue a written apology to the doctor and his wife.

Rajcoomar, a retired lieutenant colonel in the army reserves, alleged in a civil rights lawsuit against the government in April that armed air marshals detained him solely because of his dark skin.

He was handcuffed and hauled in a police cell at Philadelphia airport for four hours and his luggage was searched without his knowledge, while his wife was not informed about his whereabouts. Rajcoomar was later released and no charge was filed. He said one of the agents told him: “We didn’t like the way you looked.”

US district judge John P. Fullam said he was satisfied that the security department was complying with the terms of the settlement that called for the agency to change “its policies and training procedures regarding the allegations in the complaint”.

“I hope that other people won’t have to go through this horror,” Rajcoomar, a naturalised American who was born in Guyana, said in Philadelphia. “I’m a very staunch American. I eat hamburgers and hot dogs. This was a real shock to me.”

“This is the first time... that any branch of the homeland security has had to satisfy a federal judge that it was complying with the Constitution,” said Stefan Presser, one of Rajcoomar’s lawyers and the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia.

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