Officers who ‘mishandled’ removal of doctor from United flight fired, official says

CHICAGO —  Two Chicago aviation officers were fired over a notorious incident where a doctor was dragged from an overbooked United flight in April, including a sergeant involved with removing “material facts” from reports, according to Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

Dr. David Dao was forcibly removed from an April 9 flight from O’Hare to Louisville, Kentucky after he refused to give up his seat to airline employees looking to travel on the overbooked plane. Videos recorded of officers dragging Dao from the plane quickly went viral, and his attorney said the 69-year-old physician suffered a concussion and broken nose in the process. Dao later reached a settlement of an undisclosed amount with the airline.

In his quarterly report released Sunday, Ferguson said an investigation found one officer violated the Chicago Department of Aviation’s Use of Force Policy in escalating Dao’s removal, and they were subsequently fired.

“The [Aviation Security Officer’s] use of excessive force caused the passenger to hit his face on an armrest, resulting in the passenger sustaining a concussion, a broken nose, and the loss of two teeth,” Ferguson writes.

The OIG also found an Aviation Security Sergeant was “involved in the deliberate removal of material facts from an employee report,” and they were fired as well.  Two other officers involved in the incident were found to have made misleading statements about the incident. One was suspended for two days, according to the OIG, while the other resigned.

In their own initial reports about their actions, officers claimed they used “minimal but necessary force” in removing Dao from the plane. They blamed Dao for his injuries, saying while they were attempting to remove him he flailed his arms, knocking over an officer and falling face-first into the armrest of a seat across the aisle. Ferguson does not indicate which statements were “misleading.” Additionally, it’s unclear what “material facts” were altered or removed by the Sergeant.

Ferguson does not identify which officers were fired or suspended, but said both of the fired officers are appealing their termination.

The OIG also recommended changes to the Chicago Department of Aviation’s security division. After the incident, the department  removed the “police” label from Chicago’s Aviation Security Division, and turned responsibility for removing passengers from planes over the the Chicago Police Department.

United CEO Oscar Munoz was called to testify before Congress about the incident, but the Department of Transportation ultimately did not pursue any actions against the airline. The department ruled that since airlines were allowed  to oversell flights, bump passengers, and have them removed from planes, no action needed to be taken because United didn’t violate Dao’s civil rights in forcing him off the plan.

United ultimately changed some of its policies, including paying up to $10,000 for passengers to give up their seat, and only involuntary bumping passengers if health or safety are at risk. Other airlines like Southwest have ended the practice of overbooking altogether.