Man Who Stripped at Portland Airport Acquitted of Indecent Exposure Charges

by tylercook on September 21, 2012

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On Wednesday, July 18, a Multnomah County judge found John Brennan, 50,  not guilty of indecent exposure. Brennan achieved international fame after he stripped down at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint at the Portland, Oregon airport.

On April 17, Brennan was scheduled to fly from Portland to San Jose, California for a business trip. He flies out of the Portland airport frequently for business trips. As he reached the security checkpoint, Brennan declined to be put through the body scanners. Instead, he opted to go through the metal detector and receive a pat-down. After he was patted down by a TSA agent, the agent informed him that nitrates had been detected on the gloves he used to pat down Brennan.

According to Brennan, he became anxious each time he had to pass through security. He stated that he routinely opts out of the TSA’s body-scanning screening, opting instead for the metal detector combined with a pat-down. The detection of nitrates further upset him and felt that he had been flagged as a terrorist. In response, he took off all of his clothes. Port of Portland police arrested him and booked him in the Multnomah County Jail.

Brennan requested a jury trial in May but his request was denied.

Act of Protest

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge David Rees ruled that Brennan’s act was classified as protected speech because he performed the act out of protest.

Deputy District Attorney Joel Petersen insisted that Brennan was guilty of indecent exposure. The judge found that the state was seeking to unlawfully punish his speech. Petersen is concerned that Brennan’s acquittal may encourage copycat protests. He fears that anyone arrested for public nudity will be able to claim that they are acting in protest, allowing them to avoid punishment for indecent exposure.

Brennan claims that his protest was a way of demonstrating the effect of the TSA’s screening policies on travelers. It was also a direct protest of the full-body scanners, which portray images of travelers without their clothes on. While on the witness stand, Brennan stated that he was well aware of the irony of using nudity as a statement to protect privacy.

Oregon’s Indecent Exposure Laws

Brennan testified that he did not plan to protest that day. However, he testified that he had called the Port of Portland nearly a year earlier to ask them if Oregon’s nudity rules apply at the airport. He was informed that the rules do apply.

According to Brennan, he had asked the question because he believed that nudity was a form of protest, and that stripping down at the security checkpoint would make a strong statement. Prior to his pat down and detection of nitrates, he had not felt that he had sufficient reason to protest.

The law in question was based on an appeals court ruling from 1985 that held anti-nudity laws do not apply to protests. This precedent only affects Oregon cases and is not applicable nationwide.

According to Oregon’s indecent exposure law, nudity is unlawful if the person removes clothing with the “intent of arousing the sexual desire” of an individual. Portland’s city ordinance is far more restrictive, requiring only that a person of the opposite sex see the naked person’s genitals for the nudity to be considered unlawful.

Facing Federal Investigation

Although Brennan has been cleared in the criminal suit, he is facing investigation by the TSA. If officials from the federal agency find that he unlawfully interfered with the screening process, Brennan may be penalized with a hefty fine or placed on a no-fly list.


Diana Stevens writes on criminal defense. She found that there are many firms that handle legal issues with aviation law and the TSA.




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