DA declines to file charges against man with suspicious watch

(KGO)
November 19, 2012 5:42:20 PM PST
The Alameda County District Attorney's Office has declined to file charges against a Southern California artist and teacher who was arrested Thursday evening at Oakland International Airport for wearing a suspicious watch.

Artist Geoffrey McGann, from Southern California, says the controversial item that got him arrested is an art piece. He says his arrest confused him because he showed it to a TSA inspector at LAX who actually told him it was fine to bring on airplanes as long as he put it in a bin at the security checkpoints and wasn't hiding it.

McGann's lawyer says it's a piece of art that his client designed. "Geoff has created dozens of them. He's given them to friends, business associates, nieces, nephews," Douglas Horngrad said. If art is truly in the eyes of the beholder, the TSA and the sheriff's bomb squad thought it was something more sinister, a timing device for a bomb. "The watch had on it a toggle switch, a series of fuses, a series of wires protruding from it, a circuit board," Alameda County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson said last Friday.

Something else made authorities suspicious. Inspectors discovered that McGann's boots were stuffed with layers of insoles. "The shoes are Uggs, talk about popular, and they had lifts in them, and that's not yet against the law," Horngrad said.

"Next thing I know, I'm in handcuffs and detained, and the bomb squad," McGann recalled. He was arrested and booked at Santa Rita Jail. Over the weekend, he posted bail of $150,000. He and his lawyer were told on Monday that the district attorney decided to not file charges.

Horngrad says the TSA overreacted. "Geoff's arrest and his being thrown into Santa Rita Jail were outrageous," he said. McGann says he's been traveling with the watch art piece and similar pieces with no problems. He says he brought it to the Bay Area for a class he teaches once a week at the Academy of Art.

Sgt. Nelson says the bottom line is that the TSA and his deputies were doing their job and if they found another item like this, they'd do the same thing again. "Just because you can make an artsy watch that looks like a triggering device for an IED, just like you can make an artsy replica handgun or an artsy hand grenade, doesn't mean it's a good idea to bring it to the airport," he said.

McGann says he supports what the TSA does but he believes they went too far in this case. The TSA says it was simply doing its job finding things that are suspicious. McGann's lawyer says he's going to ask the judge to find him factually innocent and erase the arrest from his record.


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