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Racial Profiling Lawsuit Filed Over Search On 9/11 Anniversary

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Sarah Mehta, an attorney with the ACLU at left with Shoshana Hebshi, right. (credit: WWJ/Mike Campbell)

Sarah Mehta, an attorney with the ACLU at left with Shoshana Hebshi, right. (credit: WWJ/Mike Campbell)

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ROMULUS (WWJ/AP) – Metro Airport Police and the Wayne County Airport Authority are among several agencies being sued, along with Frontier Airlines, for discrimination and racial profiling, false arrest and imprisonment.

Ohio resident Shoshana Hebshi, 36, said she was returning from a visit with her sister in California on Sept. 11, 2011, when her plane was boarded by armed men.

“Several men with very large guns and uniforms, very militaristic looking, they ran on the plane. They told everybody to … put their heads down, put their hands on the seat in front of them,” said Hebshi, a freelance journalist and mother of two.

“I was thinking the whole time that maybe there’s a fugitive on the plane. Maybe, you know, there’s been a bomb scare; something’s going on that’s not right. But it never once crosses my mind that, you know, they’re coming for me.”

Hebshi said she was handcuffed and taken to a cell where she was strip-searched, questioned for four hours, and then released without explanation.

Documents later showed a Frontier employee thought Hebshi’s name “sounded suspicious,” and included her when notifying authorities that other passengers sitting near her,”two men of South Asian descent,” for repeatedly using the bathroom during the flight.

Hebshi’s lawsuit said she was targeted because she is half-Arab and half-Jewish.

She didn’t know the men.

No one was charged.

Lawyers  for and in conjunction with ACLU Michigan have filed suit on Hebshi’s behalf in U.S. District Court in Detroit. They’re seeking unspecified monetary damages, lawyers fees, and “any other relief the court deems appropriate” to prevent a recurrence with her or anyone else.

“The illegal arrest and strip search of Ms. Hebshi is 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,” Sarah Mehta, an ACLU attorney, said in a statement.

Representatives from Frontier Airlines have said their employees did nothing wrong and that “there was no profiling of any kind associated with this incident other than that of unusual and suspicious behavior.”

Officials with the Transportation Security Administration aren’t commenting.

(More on this story).

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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