Atlanta resident Bill Killen had long heard that Charleston was the most tourist-friendly city in the world, but he said his treatment at the Holy City’s airport has disabused him of that notion.
Killen said a police officer at Charleston International Airport stuck him with nearly $700 in tickets and threatened to confiscate his iPhone after spotting him photographing Boeing’s Dreamlifter aircraft on Dec. 2.
“He said ‘You can’t do that. I should take your camera from you and destroy it,’ ” said Killen, a 60-year-old retired water-bottle company owner.
Killen said the officer then falsely accused him of committing several traffic violations. Killen is returning to the city today to fight those charges in Charleston County Magistrate Court.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “What kind of welcome is this for the so-called most hospitable tourist city in the world?”
Chief Al Britnell of the Charleston County Aviation Authority Police said Killen was ticketed because he made an illegal U-turn, went the wrong way on a busy one-way road and couldn’t present proof of car insurance. While Boeing prefers not to have photos taken of its operation, police do not ticket anyone for doing so unless they are violating the law, he said.
“We’re not going to confiscate anyone’s camera,” he said.
Killen said he was visiting the airport with a friend and just wanted to get some photos of the large plane parked outside Boeing’s mammoth plant adjacent to the airport.
The plane, called a Dreamlifter, is a modified 747 cargo jet that Boeing uses to transport 787 parts from suppliers around the world.
Killen said they snapped a couple of shots from the airport’s cellphone waiting area and then circled around as he was leaving the lot to reach a better vantage point along the fence. When they stopped, an officer arrived with blue lights flashing and scolded them for taking photos of the aircraft, he said.
The officer then handed him a $445 ticket for careless driving and a $237 citation for not having an up-to-date insurance card handy, Killen said. The old card recently expired and he forgot to put the new one in his Mini Cooper, he said.
Britnell said the officer, Aaron Reed, did nothing wrong. Reed stopped Killen after seeing him pull a U-turn on the one-way access road to the airport and head back in the wrong direction. Killen then parked in a restricted area near the airport’s fuel depot that is clearly marked for authorized personnel only, he said.
State law requires drivers to carry valid proof of insurance, and Killen can probably dispense with that citation simply by documenting that he has coverage, Britnell said.
Britnell said police aren’t out to hassle anybody. In a post-9/11 world, officers have a duty to politely discourage photography of some sensitive airport features and to check on people parked along fence lines to ensure security is not being compromised, Britnell said. “We have an obligation to find out what’s going on,” he said.
Killen, however, thinks police went too far in this instance. “I’m just an innocent tourist, and this is what I end up with?”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.