Sylvania woman arrested at Detroit airport sues airline


DETROIT - A Sylvania woman who was taken off an airplane in handcuffs at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and then strip-searched and interrogated by authorities on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Frontier Airlines and state and federal authorities.

Shoshana Hebshi, a U.S. citizen who is half Arab and half Jewish, claims that racial profiling and ethnic discrimination were the reasons for authorities detaining her for nearly four hours after she was arrested on Sept. 11, 2011 while she was a passenger on the Denver-to-Detroit Frontier Airlines flight.

She and two other passengers were escorted off the plane in handcuffs. All three were released after being questioned by authorities.

In addition to Frontier Airlines, agents employed by the Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Custom and Border Patrol, and Wayne County Airport Authority police officers are named as defendants in the complaint, which was filed today in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

She claims that she was singled out by the flight crew because of her perceived ethnicity and her seat assignment on the plane next to two men of South Asian descent.

The men, who are not identified in the complaint, were believed by the flight crew and passengers to be acting suspiciously, in part, because they had been in the bathrooms for up to 20 minutes and stood in the aisle for long periods, the lawsuit said.

Ms. Hebshi, 36, is a freelance journalist and mother of two boys who was born in California. She moved in 2011 with her husband to Sylvania for her husband's medical residency, the lawsuit said.

At the time of the incident, she was returning from California after visiting with her sister.

The national and Michigan American Civil Liberties Union and private law firms in Detroit and Washington, D.C., are working together on the lawsuit on Ms. Hebshi's behalf, said Sarah Mehta, staff attorney with the Michigan ACLU.

Ms. Mehta said federal agents and airport authority police particpated in the racial profiling of her client and subsequently violated her constitutional rights by subjecting her to an illegal arrest and strip search.

In the complaint, Ms. Hebshi is asking the court to award her compensatory and punitive damages. But she also "wants to shine the light on the types of abuses ongoing" and "that racial profiling is real and hurts real people," Ms. Mehta said.

Michael Conway, spokesman for the Wayne County Airport Authority, said the agency has a policy against commenting on pending litigation, "other than to say we believe that given the information and circumstances at the time we feel the airport authority police followed protucol and acted appropriately."

Kate O'Malley, spokesman for Frontier Airlines, said the company would not comment on the lawsuit.

"As an airline, our duty and that of our flight crews is to ensure the safety of our passengers and we have the responsibility to report any suspicious behavior to law enforcement officials," she said.