Geoffrey McGann says his artistic watches aren't timepieces you wear every day. They are suitable for a special event, an art show or a party. Some of them don't even tell time.
"They are conversation pieces," the Rancho Palos Verdes man said Tuesday.
One place McGann no longer will wear any of his watches is in an airport, not after spending three days behind bars, charged with bringing components that could be used to build an explosive device into Oakland International Airport on Thursday.
McGann, 49, who had spent the day at his weekly teaching job in San Francisco, acknowledges his wristwatches look like bombs. They just aren't.
"It's made to look like a device," he said. "You could say it's a bomb.
McGann, who serves as managing creative director at Locomotus, a media, marketing and advertising training center, and teaches at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester, has a portfolio full of art work and photography. He began building his watches and handing them out to friends six months ago.
They are colorful, built with wires and fuses and switches that can be found at The Home Depot. McGann adorns them with other items like Hot Wheels cars, flowers, insects or compasses - whatever suits the person who will receive it. He stores them in a large box at home that's decorated with similar fuses and wires and labeled "Makes stuff bloom.
Sometimes he wears them out, especially when he plans to give them as gifts to students and friends. About six months ago, McGann explained what he was wearing on his wrist to Transportation Security Administration agents at Los Angeles International Airport before going through a scanner to make sure it was OK.
"They told me, `As long as you're not trying to hide anything, it's all right.' So, I put the watch in the bin and that's how I proceeded to travel with them for months, by simply putting them in the bin on the conveyor belts," McGann said.
Thursday night, TSA agents saw the watch go through the scanner and pulled him aside. Alameda County sheriff's deputies were called to the security checkpoint, handcuffed McGann and put him in a patrol car while a bomb squad arrived to examine his watch.
McGann said he had no problem with the TSA agents' concern at what he had there. But after the bomb squad determined the watch was not an explosive, McGann believes believes sheriff's deputies should have set him free.
"My problem is they arrested me on a false charge," McGann said. "The charge was felony possession of an explosive device."
Sgt. J.D. Nelson, an Alameda County Sheriff's Department spokesman, said McGann was held on suspicion of possession of components to make a destructive device, not possession of explosives.
Nelson said deputies knew McGann did not have explosives, but did not know if he was part of a scheme with other people to bring components onto a plane to create a bomb with anyone who did.
"We don't know what he's planning to do," Nelson said. "You've got a guy bringing in something you wouldn't bring into an airport."
Beyond that, Nelson said, McGann did not check any bags, had the watch covered up in a jacket as it went through the X-ray scanner, wore shoes two sizes too big with homemade inserts and wore a shirt with a tourniquet built into it that a soldier might wear to save his own life on the battlefield.
"Taken individually you could say, `All right, it's a plausible excuse,"' Nelson said. "Put them all together and you get arrested."
Nelson said deputies had to err on the side of public safety and were put in a bad position.
"If you let him go and he turns out to be something, then you look like idiots for letting him go," Nelson said.
McGann said he was required to post $150,000 bail and hire an attorney.
"My issue is with the Sheriff's Department," McGann said. "They told me after looking at the watch that they knew it wasn't explosive, that they knew I wasn't a terrorist, that they knew I was an artist, that they knew I wasn't trying to hide anything, and yet they still proceeded to arrest me because, as they said, `We have to because we don't know what else to do and we don't feel good about simply letting you go. And don't worry, these charges will likely be dropped soon.' which is in fact exactly what happened."
After he was released, McGann rented a car and drove home. The father of an 11-year-old girl said he won't wear his watches in an airport again.
Nelson said the bottom line is no one should take something like that to an airport.
"Common sense has to kick in," the sergeant said. "If you want to do artwork, that's great. It's not OK to take a toy art handgun to the airport or to the courthouse or a toy gun and a mask to a theater. You can't do that nowadays."
Follow Larry Altman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/larryaltman