ACLU files lawsuit over woman’s terrifying incident at Detroit Metro Airport

Shoshana Hebshi (2)A 36-year-old Ohio woman who is half-Jewish and half-Arab is suing the FBI and other federal agencies, saying she was yanked off an airplane at Detroit Metro Airport on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, strip-searched, and jailed for more than four hours in a dirty cell because of her ethnic background.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit on behalf of Shoshana Hebshi of Sylvania, who was on a Frontier Airlines flight that landed at the airport on Sept. 11, 2011. She and two Indian-American men sitting in her row were targeted by federal agents who entered the plane, handcuffed them, and pushed them down the stairs into vehicles, Hebshi said.

She was then placed in a cell, where she was ordered to strip naked, squat, and cough while an officer looked at her.

“I was frightened and humiliated,” said Hebshi, a freelance journalist and mother of 7-year-old twins. “As an American citizen and a mom, I’m really concerned about my children growing up in a country where your skin color and your name can put your freedom and liberty at risk at any time.”

“We often think of racial profiling as a problem that impacts other people,” she added. “I am proof that racial profiling hurts us all.”

At the time, Hebshi’s case drew international attention, leading to reports from the Guardian to the Economist that raised questions about the profiling of minorities in the U.S. Hebshi told the Free Press she hopes the lawsuit can lead to changes and “heightened awareness” of abusive law enforcement.

The suit was filed against Frontier Airlines, the FBI, TSA (Transportation Security Administration), ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and CBP (Customs and Border Protection).

“The FBI was clearly calling the shots” during Hebshi’s detainment, said Bill Goodman of Detroit, one of the attorneys representing Hebshi.

FBI Detroit spokesman Simon Shaykhet declined to comment.

Detroit Free Press, 23 January 2013

See also ACLU press release, 22 January 2013