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Elderly Passengers Upset About TSA's Strip Search Denials

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Transportation Security Administration now says its screeners screwed up when they searched 89- and 85-year-old women.

Sort of.

Ruth Sherman and Lenore Zimmerman both said they were strip searched. Both need medical devices and opt for pat-downs instead of full-body scanners because of them.

Now, the TSA has responded to a letter by State Sen. Michael Gianaris about the incidents.

Read Markey's note in its entirety by clicking here (.pdf)

"TSA sincerely regrets any discomfort or inconvenience the passengers at JFK experienced," wrote Assistant Secretary Betsy Markey.

Markey denied any strip search occurred.

"TSA interviewed the [Transportation Security Officers] who conducted the screening, reviewed CCTV footage where available, and interviewed the passengers who made the allegations. TSA determined that there is no evidence to support the claims that TSA employees conducted strip searches of any passenger," Markey said.

Gianaris calls it a partial and insulting apology.

"They stopped short of admitting there was a strip search that was conducted. Admit that in fact these women were required to remove their clothing to go through security and then we can begin a dialogue about what went wrong and how to keep it from happening again," he said.

Zimmerman claims that after she received her pat-down, she was taken into a private room and strip searched.

"She said 'pull your pants down,'" Zimmerman said in December. "Then she pulled my underwear down. I said 'why is this happening?' and she didn't respond."

The TSA immediately denied the allegation, saying at the time that "the TSA does not include strip searches as part of our security protocols and one was not conducted in this case."

Zimmerman is angry that the letter goes on to call her a liar, saying a strip search never happened and she was never asked to remove any articles of clothing.

"They took me into a private room and said 'please pull your pants down.' I was in a wheelchair. I look like a terrorist don't I?" Zimmerman asked CBS 2's Dave Carlin on Wednesday.

Sherman, of Sunrise, Fla., also told Carlin she was strip-searched by screeners who wanted a closer look at her colostomy bag.

"I couldn't believe it," Sherman said. "This is private for me. It's bad enough that I have it. I had to pull from sweatpants and I had to pull my underwear, my underwear down," Sherman said.

"I felt like I was invaded. I'm not a liar. I tell you the truth, I am not a liar."

About Sherman's case the TSA admitted it was wrong that she was asked to show screeners a very private, medical device.

"It is not standard operating procedure for colostomy devices to be visually inspected. However, again, at no point was the passenger asked to remove any items of clothing during screening," the letter read.

"This is a lie what they said. They should have people who are trained," Sherman said.

Markey said in Zimmerman's case her back brace was improperly screened through an X-ray machine and in Sherman's case, her colostomy device was improperly inspected visually. Markey apologized for those improper actions.

"To reduce the likelihood of any future incidents occurring, TSOs at JFK are receiving refresher training to include scenario-based exercises on how to respectfully and safely screen passengers with disabilities or medical conditions to ensure all the proper procedures are followed," Markey wrote.

What do you make of the TSA's position? Do you think the strip searches happened or not? Sound off in our comments section below.

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