Aviation Police Officer Fired Over David Dao Dragging Sues United and Chicago

The classic definition of chutzpah, often attributed to the Menendez brothers, is killing your parents and then asking the court for mercy because you’re an orphan.

One of the Chicago Aviation Police officers is suing United and the City of Chicago because he was fired after participating in the dragging of David Dao off a United Express flight a year ago.

He says the city was at fault for “negligence in training” that would ensure he didn’t drag passengers off of aircraft and cause them to be beaten. It’s that lack of training which caused him to be fired and to suffer “mental anguish.”

Furthermore, United is the one that called the Aviation Police. And this officer was “called off his lunch hour” to assist. And oh by the way he only “gently” tried to remove Dr. Dao from the plane but Dr. Dao happened to fall “and hit his mouth.” In contrast an Inspector General’s report found the officers responded with excessive force.

And since “United knew or should have known” that calling the Aviation Police would result in a passenger being beaten (!), it’s really their fault.

Defendent UNITED knew or should have known that calling the Aviation Police on April 9, 2017 to remove a passenger who was refusing to leave their plane would require the use of physical force.

…Defendant UNITED negligently failed to foresee the consequences of its actions of calling the Aviation Police Force to remove a passenger unwilling to leave the plane.

If United hadn’t called him, he wouldn’t have been there, Dr. Dao wouldn’t have been beaten and he wouldn’t have been fired. He even states that United “requir[ed him] and other aviation officers to remove Dr. Dao..” In other words, he takes his instructions from the airline and not from his department, its procedures, or his supervisor.

He further claims that the Aviation Police Commissioner defamed him by stating that Aviation Police aren’t law enforcement officers and that this caused him “emotional distress.”

The officer says he did nothing wrong but that “if he did do something wrong it was because the City of Chicago failed to properly train him.” Which is it? It can’t be both.

When David Dao was dragged off of a United Express flight in April, everything that could possibly have gone wrong did.

  • United decided to send crew on a full flight, necessitating bumping passengers. On net doing this would inconvenience fewer people.

  • They didn’t make the decision or communicate it early enough to handle denied boardings at the gate. So they had to pull passengers off the plane.

  • When there weren’t enough takers for voluntary compensation, they followed involuntary denied boarding procedures. Because they could.

  • When David Dao felt this was all unfair and refused to leave, United turned their customer service issue into a law enforcement issue. They called the Chicago Aviation Police.

  • The police responded with excessive force.

  • United compounded the issue when CEO Oscar Munoz apologized ‘that customers has to be re-accommodated’ — indeed, they re-accommodated his face.

The responding officers weren’t the only ones at fault, but they were at fault. United shouldn’t have turned its customer service problem over to the police, but the police shouldn’t have responded with excessive force.

Indeed United’s operational choices created the conditions for the problem. Their denied boarding procedures allowed it to escalate. But the biggest issues were outsourcing customer service to the police, and the physical response by the police.

United even effectively covered up for this officer in settling with Dr. Dao. The airline paid a settlement that included a waiver of any claim against the city or its Aviation Police.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. And what do you think would have happened to this aviation police officer had he showed up, been ordered to take Dr. Dao off the plane, and sized up the situation correctly, saying, “I’m sorry, it is not my job to get in the middle of customer service problems,” and then did nothing. Do you think he would still have a job if he did that????

  2. @Don in ATL – his union could have protected him then. However even if there was risk to his job that doesn’t justify excessive force.

  3. @Gary, I’m not saying he should have done what he did. He did WRONG. I’m just saying this poor SOB was in a no win situation. He would have needed an expert attorney at his side to make the right decisions and say the all the correct things. Yes, he should have NOT used excessive force. But Dr. Dao wasn’t going anywhere easily. So at some point after trying to gently escort Dr. Dao off, the police officer has to say, hey, I’m not doing this. I’m not going to use excessive force. Now what? The police officer would have to have been a skilled attorney to navigate this minefield.

  4. It’s a difficult job. But he should be fired for what an inspector general found was excessive force. He wasn’t the only one at fault for the situation but that doesn’t absolve him.

    The broader problem is the post-9/11 tendency to immediately outsource customer service issues to law enforcement because anything can be a ‘security risk’. But even if airlines call the police when they shouldn’t, the police aren’t required to beat passengers when they respond as this lawsuit essentially contends.

  5. Stop defending the wrong doing this officer did! He is the only one responsible for his decisions.He should have thought properly first before dragging und hurting someone.

  6. You know, if it wasn’t so serious, you’d have to laugh a little bit. That takes some chutzpah! Nice way to sum this all up, Gary!

  7. Meh – the poor officer was just following standard Chicago police protocol in place for 50 years or have you forgotten the police riot at the ’68 DNC?

  8. It’s a bad situation all around, but I still maintain it’s David Dao’s fault for refusing to get up when it was clear United had escalated the issue beyond sanity. Nobody wins when you start fighting with the police.

    I suppose he knows that, now. 🙂

  9. @Rob

    I respect your opinion..but it is Dao’s human instinct to react that way. He felt it was a biased decision to kick out the Asian and the rest stays there. You are right, to behave against law inforcers badly is in general not a good idea. But it is proven afterwards that they have used excessive force so it is only a righteous decision against the police officer!

  10. @Myles – he showed a dramatic lack of situational awareness. It’s not just generally a bad idea to fight with the police – it was a bad idea in this case. He made a bunch of money for having his face bashed in, but personally I’d just as soon retain all my teeth rather than fight over feeling slighted. Leaving the plane voluntarily when they demanded it would have netted him a pile of cash as well.

    The fact that the actions of the police were deemed excessive doesn’t excuse the bad behavior of the passenger.

    I’m disappointed that the police officer didn’t sue Dao as well. Ultimately he was at least as much the cause of the problem as the police or United.

  11. @rob

    respect your opinion..but I am not fully on your side..surely voluntarily giving up the seat, leaving the plane on his own would definitely made the situation easier. But UA staffs should have left DAO alone when he does not want to bumped out..There are surely other pax who wanted that pile of money.They should have asked others.
    Regarding the police officer..his excessive attitude made it worst..he deserves what he got!

  12. Your Dao worship is tiring in the extreme. If he’d gotten off the plane as requested instead of having a self-entitled tantrum none of this would have happened.

  13. @ExcessiveUseOfForce. I think it’s rude to call Dao a pig. He’s clearly not very clever, but he doesn’t deserve to go to jail. He shouldn’t have gotten a big payout, though. With any luck the cop will add him to the lawsuit and get a portion of the payout from United.

  14. @ excessive use of force

    hopefully no scumbag will cross your path one day and show you who is the real pig!
    Wish you a good night sleep!

  15. It’s the fault of United !!!
    Stop calling the police on your paying passengers !
    Put the dam crew in the jump seats !!!
    Lazy lazy
    When Dr Dao refused to leave do what JetBlue does sometimes
    Have all the passengers get off the plane

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