An altercation escalated


The following letter from an ITN subscriber describes her altercation with an employee at Schiphol Airport and the subsequent occurrences which prompted her to file complaints. ITN is presenting it and the resulting official findings to show the professional manner in which a “he said, she said” situation such as this was dealt with and resolved.

I was at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Nov. 20, 2005, heading home from a riverboat cruise with Grand Circle Travel. My Lufthansa flight was leaving at 2:25 p.m. for Frankfurt and would continue to New York.

Since I was feeling ill, at about 1:35 I asked an airport caddy at the food court to take me to my gate (B09). The caddy said, “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

I answered that he didn’t seem busy, whereupon he said, “(Expletive deleted), you stupid cripple.”

I walked away, but he followed me in his cart, almost running into me in the process. He followed me all the way to the gate with a big smile on his face. When I got to the gate where my plane was to take off, he was right in back of me. I complained to the gate master that I was being followed and harassed, whereupon the caddy, who was on foot at this point, called me a liar and a lowlife.

The caddy then starting yelling in Dutch. I was asked if I wanted to lodge a complaint. I said ,“No.” I then boarded the plane.

Approximately five minutes later I was called to the front of the plane with my belongings. Waiting for me at the door were three airport policemen. The older of the two started yelling at me that I was under arrest for insulting a Dutch employee of the airport. The policeman then told me that I would not be flying out but perhaps I would be allowed to fly out the next day if I cooperated fully.

When I tried to speak, the policeman pointed a finger in my face and said, “Keep quiet because I do not want to repeat myself.”

While I was being marched to the police station in the airport, I was told that anything I said could be held against me. At the station, I was told that the airport caddy was making a statement in the next room and was very insulted by my statements.

I was interrogated for the next six hours by two policemen. A third policeman, who was older and was called the assistant prosecutor, did not interrogate me but continually threatened that if I did not cooperate I could go to trial and be held in prison for two or more weeks. I was told that if I was found guilty I would never get out. On the other hand, if I cooperated and signed a confession, I would be released that day, I was told.

The policeman was taking down my statements in Dutch. They wanted me to admit that I called the airport caddy names. When I tried to tell the policeman the truth, he would not listen, then he would leave and come back and start over. This happened at least 10 times over an hour and a half. Each time, the policeman got angrier and threatened me even more.

When he finished typing out “my statement” in Dutch, he made me sign two copies of it. I was told that if I didn’t sign, I would go to jail and remain there until my trial was over. I asked for representation from the American Consulate and was refused. After I signed the statement, the policeman read a portion of it to me which was NOT what I had said.

I was fined €100 ($120) by the assistant prosecutor. The policeman tried to grab my wallet and wanted me to take my credit card to an ATM machine to get the money. The prosecutor came in and threw €4 in $1 coins at me and told me to keep those as a souvenir. I was also told I was to be grateful that the prosecutor had reduced my fine from €200.

The two policemen took me to the airport, and my flight was rebooked for the next day at 7 a.m. I was told that I could sleep on a chair in the airport or rent a hotel room. I was burdened with my entire luggage. I am 69½ years of age and ambulate with a cane. I had to go to a hotel in the airport on my own.

The next day, the manager of the Sheraton took me to the airport at

5:15 a.m. He apologized for the disgraceful way his country had treated me. Not allowed to go into the security area, he left me in a wheelchair from the hotel just before the security machines. I was wheeled out of the line by the manager, who told me a wheelchair would be forthcoming, but I was ignored by the check-in personnel.

I was finally told by a woman in a blue uniform that if I wanted a wheelchair I would have to go back to Lufthansa. She then made a long speech in Dutch and everybody on the line laughed at me. I had to get up from the wheelchair and walk through security, where I was hassled for 10 minutes.

RUTH WEISS

Great Neck, NY

Upon returning home, Ms. Weiss wrote to Lufthansa, Grand Circle Travel, the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. State Department, a state senator, the Head of Internal Affairs at the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, Her Majesty Queen Beatrix c/o the Ministry of Justice in The Hague, and ITN.

In her letter to Senator Clinton she wrote, “Please help me get a refund, if possible, of the fine ($120) and the hotel bill ($120) I had to pay.”

ITN sent to Lufthansa (1640 Hempstead Turnpike, East Meadow, NY 11554) a copy of Ms. Weiss’ original letter. The airline’s Communications Manager, Jennifer Urbaniak, answered, “Lufthansa regrets the experience Mrs. Weiss endured at Schiphol Airport. However, her chief complaint —

mistreatment by the Schiphol Airport Police — falls outside of our jurisdiction. It is Lufthansa’s policy to ensure the safety and security of our passengers at all times, and that includes cooperation with local airport authorities. Our Station Manager in Amsterdam did personally assist Mrs. Weiss with a wheelchair, and we have since offered her a 15% discount on future travel with Lufthansa as a goodwill gesture.”

ITN in February 2006 also wrote to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (P.O. Box 7501, 1118 ZG Schiphol, The Netherlands) and was initially told in an e-mail from Maj. Drs. Mascha Gelauf, Marechausseevoorlichting, “De Royal Marechaussee received the complaint on December 6th and it is under investigation. When the procedure is concluded, Mrs. Weiss will receive the official reaction of the Marechaussee. This reaction can also be used as our reply in your magazine.”

Ultimately, Ms. Weiss was sent a copy of the findings of the investigation. It was dated 16 August 2006 and addressed to Vice Consul Heidi Arola at the Consulate-General of the United States of America in Amsterdam.

It stated, “In a letter dated 30 November 2005, the Consulate-General of the United States filed a complaint on behalf of Ms. R. Weiss concerning the actions of officials of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. I am now able to inform you of the following.”

Under the heading “Details of the complaint,” the formal report then listed Ms. Weiss’ grievances of Nov. 20.

Under the heading “Procedure,” the report outlined the trail of the filing from office to office until “. . . the Commander of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee Schiphol District forwarded the complaint to the Commander of the General Police Services Brigade at Schiphol, asking him to take over the complaint and to have one of his personnel conduct an investigation into the complaint within his brigade.”

In course, “On 2 May 2006, the complaint was submitted to the independent Complaints Commission for Police Tasks of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee/Armed Forces for processing and recommendations, which dealt with the complaint on 16 May 2006.”

Continuing in his report, the Head of the Personal Office of the Commander then wrote the following.

Facts

On Sunday afternoon 20 November 2005, Ms. Weiss arrived at Schiphol Airport. After checking in for her Lufthansa flight 4677 to the United States, via Frankfurt (Germany), she requested assistance from an airport employee working for the INTERGOM company. Ms. Weiss asked to be taken to the gate by the so-called caddy, because she felt ill. An altercation arose between her and the employee, who indicated that he had no time to take her to the gate.

The altercation was such that the INTERGOM employee felt insulted and reported the incident to the Schiphol Plaza Marechaussee Post. Ms. Weiss was subsequently taken off her flight and was transferred to the Schiphol Plaza Marechaussee Post after being arrested at 14:50 hours by two sergeants of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee.

Ms. Weiss was then brought before the duty Assistant Public Prosecutor at the aforementioned Post. Ms. Weiss was released at 16:50 hours, after being questioned by the aforementioned sergeants.

Ms. Weiss also states that one of the officials questioning her allegedly threatened that she would be detained for a long period unless she cooperated fully. The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee officials in question have stated that they informed her of her rights at all times and treated her with respect.

Ms. Weiss also states that her statement was taken down in Dutch and that she had to sign it twice. The officials in question state that it is customary to take down statements in Dutch but that she only signed once.

The officials in question were not aware of the fact that Ms. Weiss wanted to contact the Consulate-General of the United States (and they assert) she had not indicated this to the officials.

Ms. Weiss also states that they tried to obtain her wallet and that she was prevailed upon to withdraw more money from a cash machine with her credit card, and that coins were thrown at her. The officials in question state that they did everything to help her bring the incident to a satisfactory conclusion. (They state that) in no way was any pressure exerted upon her nor were any coins thrown at her.

Ms. Weiss made the following comments regarding the report of findings sent to her by the Complaints Commission.

Ms. Weiss states in addition to her letter of complaint that the Assistant Public Prosecutor, in her opinion, brought the history of the Nazi occupation to the forefront by acting in the spirit of a Nazi.

Considerations

Part 1 of the complaint

The officials in question have stated that they indeed said in a loud voice to Ms. Weiss, “Keep quiet because I do not want to repeat myself.” This was done in a loud voice because the aircraft that Ms. Weiss had been on was about to leave.

The way in which Ms. Weiss was spoken to by the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee official in question is not very professional or customer-oriented. Civilians should always be addressed in a polite manner.

The loud tone of voice in which Ms. Weiss was spoken to was justified under the circumstances, due to the noise made by the departing aircraft.

This means that, with regard to this part of the complaint, I declare part (a) to be unfounded and part (b) to be founded.

Part 2 of the complaint

The investigation has revealed that Ms. Weiss was arrested at 14:55 hours and released at 16:50 hours. That means that the investigation took just over two hours. In view of the actions taken during that time, the time span is not exceptionally long. In any case, the investigation did not take six hours as Ms. Weiss indicated.

That means that I declare this part of the complaint to be unfounded.

Parts 3 and 4 of the complaint

The officials in question expressly deny that Ms. Weiss was put under any pressure. According to the officials, they informed Ms. Weiss of her rights and in general treated her with respect. The officials did state, however, that if Ms. Weiss were to accept a settlement proposal, the case would be closed as far as the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee was concerned. The officials also stated that they did not say to Ms. Weiss that she would be locked up.

The officials also stated that Ms. Weiss was not obliged to sign the statement. If she had not done so, the reason for refusal would have been stated at the bottom of the official report.

The officials indicated that two copies were not made of the official report. According to the officials, it is therefore not possible for Ms. Weiss to have signed a statement twice. These contradictory statements could be explained by the fact that Ms. Weiss’ statement was two pages long and the records show she signed both pages.

It is true, however, that the statement was only taken down in Dutch. This is related to the fact that the language proficiency of the officials did not allow a long statement to be taken down in English.

The investigation did not reveal whether Ms. Weiss was told that she was not required to sign the statement. If she was not told so, then this was not the correct procedure. A person who does not live in the Netherlands cannot be expected to be completely familiar with the Dutch Code of Criminal Procedure.

As the contradictory statements do not make it exactly clear how the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee officials addressed Ms. Weiss regarding the aforementioned matters, it is not possible for me to make a well-founded judgment in this respect.

Part 5 of the complaint

Article 36, Section 1 of the Treaty of Vienna states that the competent authority of the receiving State must inform the consular mission of the sending State immediately that a citizen of the latter State has been arrested, detained or placed into remand or in any other way placed in custody, should the citizen so request. According to the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee officials in question, however, Ms. Weiss never asked to be allowed to contact the diplomatic representation of her country.

As the statements contradict each other in this respect, it is not possible for me to form a well-founded judgment on this part of the complaint.

Part 6 of the complaint

The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee officials stated that Ms. Weiss told them she did not have money to pay her settlement. After Ms. Weiss had said that she was in possession of a credit card, one of the officials offered to take her credit card to the bank to withdraw money.

Ms. Weiss may have misunderstood the official’s offer and taken it to be an attempt to obtain her credit card and wallet in order to have her withdraw more money.

The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee official should not have interfered in Ms. Weiss’ decision on how to pay her settlement. Using bank or credit cards to withdraw money without the holder being present should be avoided at all times, even if the holder has given permission to do so. It is therefore my opinion that the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee official in question acted incorrectly.

I therefore declare this part of the complaint to be founded.

Part 7 of the complaint

The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee official in question expressly stated that they did not throw money at Ms. Weiss. After Ms. Weiss’ money had been changed, with assistance from the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee officials, they handed the money to Ms. Weiss in a normal manner.

As it has not been established precisely in what way the money was handed to Ms. Weiss because the statements contradict each other on this matter, I cannot make a well-founded judgment in this respect.

Although no complaint is made about it in the letter from the Consulate-General, the Complaints Commission is of the opinion that the decision to arrest Ms. Weiss and to take her off the flight to Frankfurt.was incorrect. Shortly before, an incidence of defamation had been reported. The perpetrator was allegedly an elderly lady who was annoyed because the person reporting the incident had refused to take her to gate B9 at Schiphol Airport by the so-called caddy.

In the opinion of the Complaints Commission, the seriousness of this suspected punishable offence does not justify the further actions of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee official in question.

Request for compensation

In view of the above, and in particular part 7 of the complaint, I am willing, out of leniency, to reimburse the sum of €220 (€120 in hotel expenses and €100 in extra expenses).

In order to recompensate (Ms. Weiss), I need to have (her) bank or giro account number (including [her] International Bank Account Number - IBAN), copies of (her) hotel reservation and a copy of (her) bank or giro statement available to me. I request (that she) enclose these documents with a signed request for financial compensation and. . . send these documents to me forthwith.

Finally, I would like to apologise for the delay in dealing with (her) complaint.

Further procedure

I would now ask you to inform Ms. Weiss as follows. If Ms. Weiss disagrees with the outcome of the complaint procedure as followed by the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, she may appeal to the National Ombudsman. If she wishes to submit her complaint, or parts thereof, to the National Ombudsman, she must do so in writing within a year of the complaint having been dealt with by the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee. In (the) letter, she should indicate why she disagrees with the response to her complaint. The address to write to is National Ombudsman. P.O. Box 93122, 2509 AC, The Hague, Netherlands.

COLONEL E. MULDER, Head, Complaints Office, Internal Affairs Section, Office of the Commander of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, Ministry of Defence, The Hague, Netherlands

In a follow-up, Ms. Weiss told ITN that she did accept the €220 settlement and did not proceed further with the National Ombudsman.