Court: NASA officer went too far in detention of 74-year-old
SAN FRANCISCO | For nearly two hours on May 19, 2011, Joann Davis stood in the parking lot of a California Denny’s restaurant in pants soaked in urine answering questions from a federal agent about a rice-size piece of moon rock she wanted to sell to help pay for her son’s medical care.
Mrs. Davis, who was in her 70s, had contacted NASA about the rock and claimed it was a gift to her late husband from Neil Armstrong. But lunar material is considered government property, and her email brought six armed officers to the Denny’s that day in a sting operation to seize the rock.
An indignant federal appeals court on Thursday criticized Mrs. Davis’ detention by NASA agent Norman Conley, calling it “unreasonably prolonged and unnecessarily degrading.”
Mr. Conley detained Mrs. Davis even though he knew she was nearly 75 years old, had urinated in her pants during the sting, had reached out to NASA herself and was having financial problems, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.
The appeals panel upheld a lower court ruling denying Mr. Conley immunity from Mrs. Davis’ lawsuit alleging wrongful detention.