Back on Sept. 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an Ohio woman was one of three people detained by authorities at Detroit Metro Airport, where she claims she was strip-searched and held without cause for four hours.
No charges were ever filed against any of the three passengers, but the woman is now suing airport officials, Frontier Airlines, and various federal authorities, including the TSA and the FBI.
To go back to the start, during the woman’s Frontier flight from Denver to Detroit, crew members reported suspicious activity. Specifically, they claimed that two male passengers, who were seated in the same row as the plaintiff but with whom she was not acquainted, were spending too much time in the bathroom. The plane was escorted to Detroit Metro by F-16 fighter jets.
In a blog post written the day after the events, the woman wrote that she had no idea that there was any problem until after the plane had landed on the tarmac.
“Before I knew it, about 10 cops, some in what looked like military fatigues, were running toward the plane carrying the biggest machine guns I have ever seen–bigger than what the guards carry at French train stations,” she wrote. “Someone shouted for us to place our hands on the seats in front of us, heads down… He slapped metal cuffs on my wrists and pushed me off the plane. The three of us, two Indian men living in the Detroit metro area, and me, a half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio, were being detained.”
She claims that the officers holding her would not answer her questions and that she was placed in a 6’ by 10’ cell with a metal cot and a video camera above the open toilet.
According to the complaint, authorities ordered her to strip naked and squat and cough as an officer looked on. Investigators also searched her mouth, checked under her eyelids, and in her hair. All before interrogating her and the ultimately releasing her.
“I was frightened and humiliated, and my rights were clearly violated solely because of my ethnicity,” recalls the passenger in a statement released today. “As an American citizen and a mom, I’m really concerned about my children growing up in a country where your skin color and name can put your freedom and liberty at risk at any time. This kind of discrimination should not be tolerated.”
The ACLU of Michigan, which is filing the suit on behalf of the passenger, claims that public records show she was detained because of her proximity to the two men and because of her name.
A staff attorney for ACLU of Michigan calls the incident “not simply a mistake made by an airline employee or government agency, but a predictable consequence of institutionalizing racial stereotypes and mass suspicion as law enforcement tactics.”
The complaint — filed against Frontier, the TSA, Wayne County Airport Authority, Detroit Metro Airport Police, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Patrol — alleges unreasonable search and seizure and discrimination prohibited by the federal civil rights laws.