Hebshi v. United States

Hebshi v. United StatesHebshi v. United States

April 1, 2014

Shoshana Hebshi, an Ohio mother of two, is challenging Frontier Airlines, Detroit Metro Airport officials and federal authorities for her unlawful arrest, detention and strip-search. Hebshi was racially profiled and targeted because of her ethnicity.

She was born and raised in California. Her mother is Jewish and her late father emigrated from Saudi Arabia to the United States. On Sept. 11, 2011, Hebshi was forcibly removed from an airplane in handcuffs, strip searched, and held for four hours in a small cell even though she had done nothing suspicious.

“I was frightened and humiliated, and my rights were clearly violated solely because of my ethnicity,” said Hebshi, a freelance journalist who lives in Sylvania, Ohio, with her husband and twin boys. “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.”

Hebshi was traveling to Detroit Metro Airport after visiting her sister in California, and was seated next to two men of South Asian descent who she did not know. When the plane landed, armed agents boarded the flight and Hebshi and the two men were handcuffed and ordered off the flight at gunpoint. Officers refused to explain the arrest and Hebshi did not know when she would be able to call her family. She was placed in a 6’ by 10’ cell with a metal cot and a video camera above the open toilet. While in the cell, a crying Hebshi was ordered to strip naked and squat and cough as an officer looked on. The officer than looked in Hebshi’s mouth, lifted her eyelids and searched her hair. She was released four hours later after being interrogated.

Through public records, the ACLU discovered that Hebshi was removed from the flight because she was seated next to the men and because of her ethnic name. A small number of passengers noticed the two men go to the bathroom in succession and complained to the flight crew. The two men were cleared of any wrongdoing and were also released from custody later that evening.

The complaint cites a number of violations, including unreasonable search and seizure prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, and discrimination prohibited by the federal civil rights laws. The lawsuit was filed against Frontier Airlines as well as officials with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Wayne County Airport Authority, Detroit Metro Airport Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Michigan, the Detroit law firm of Goodman & Hurwitz, and the Washington, DC office of the law firm of Covington & Burling.

Update: On March 31, 2014 the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan issued a decision allowing Shoshana's racial profiling claims to go forward.

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