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updated: 10/18/2017 5:48 AM

United Airlines dragging incident that went viral produces firings, suspensions of officers

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  • This Sunday, April 9, 2017, image made from a video provided by Audra D. Bridges shows a passenger being removed from a United Airlines flight in Chicago. Video of police officers dragging the passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight sparked an uproar Monday on social media, and a spokesman for the airline insisted that employees had no choice but to contact authorities to remove the man. (Audra D. Bridges via AP)

    This Sunday, April 9, 2017, image made from a video provided by Audra D. Bridges shows a passenger being removed from a United Airlines flight in Chicago. Video of police officers dragging the passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight sparked an uproar Monday on social media, and a spokesman for the airline insisted that employees had no choice but to contact authorities to remove the man. (Audra D. Bridges via AP)

 
By Travis M. Andrews
The Washington Post

Two airport security officers have been fired and two others suspended for their roles in forcibly removing a doctor from a United Airlines flight in April at the Chicago O'Hare International Airport, a raucous scene that was recorded on cellphone video and spread across the globe.

The news that the Chicago Department of Aviation had taken the disciplinary action came in a quarterly report from the city's Office of Inspector General released on Tuesday. It wasn't clear when the department acted.

The officers "mishandled a non-threatening situation," which led to the "violent" removal of the 69-year-old passenger, David Dao, the inspector general's report said. Three of the officers also attempted to cover up details of the incident in their reports. The officers were not named.

"The use of excessive force caused the passenger to hit his face on an armrest, resulting in a concussion, a broken nose, and the loss of two teeth," a news release accompanying the report stated.

One security officer was fired because he "improperly escalated the incident," while a security sergeant was fired for deliberately removing facts from a report on the incident, according to the OIG. One of the officers was suspended for two days, and the other for five.

The aviation department also said it was reviewing its policies and procedures in light of the incident. The department said at the time that one of the officers was placed on leave "pending a thorough review of the situation."

Cellphone video of the April 9 incident, captured by at least two passengers, showed officers forcibly pulling Dao out of his seat and to the floor of the aircraft. He hit his head on an armrest.

The officers then dragged a screaming and bloody Dao by the arms down the aisle of the Louisville-bound airplane before it took off from the Chicago O'Hare International Airport, while other passengers looked on with horrified expressions.

United Airlines said he was removed because the flight was overbooked and four United employees needed to fly to Louisville. When no one offered to give up their seats, the airline told four people to leave. Dao refused to give up his seat.

Another video showed Dao running back down the aisle at one point. He looked dazed, and he kept repeating, "I have to go home. I have to go home."

United drew widespread criticism for its response to the incident, in which the company apologized "for having to re-accommodate these customers."

The airline later announced an internal investigation and offered another statement promising to "fix what's broken so this never happens again."

"I continue to be disturbed by what happened," United chief executive Oscar Munoz said in a statement at the time. "I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way."

Dao reached an undisclosed settlement with United within three weeks of the incident, according to the Associated Press.

Dao's attorney Thomas Demetrio told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the video footage of the incident was key in the OIG's findings.

"There is a lesson to be learned here for police officers at all levels. Do not state something that is clearly contrary to video viewed by the world," Demetrio said. "The Inspector General's report should become the poster child for why passengers should always maintain the right to videotape mistreatment of all kinds. Our cellphones are the best deterrent to ensure mistreatment becomes a rarity."