Pakistani woman says racially profiled at airport

By Cara Bailey | Aug 28, 2008

HUNTINGTON - A Pakistani woman, whose carry-on bag caused Tri-State Airport to shut down for several hours in 2006, has filed a federal lawsuit against US Airways, claiming she was racially profiled.

HUNTINGTON - A Pakistani woman, whose carry-on bag caused Tri-State Airport to shut down for several hours in 2006, has filed a federal lawsuit against US Airways, claiming she was racially profiled.

Rima Qayyum, a U.S. citizen for more than 26 years, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Huntington. Attorney Fazal A. Shere, of Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, is representing Qayyum.

Qayyum, who was 28 at the time, claims she was stopped because of her race and was deprived of her right to travel as a passenger in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.

On Aug. 17, 2006, Qayyum arrived at Tri-State Airport to fly on a US Airways flight to Michigan. Her carry-on contained a bottle of water and a container of facial cream. Qayyum claims she was carrying the water because she was four and a half months pregnant.

As other passengers moved through the airport security any liquids in their bags were discarded. However, when liquids were found in Qayyum's carry-on, she was pulled out of line and taken against her will to an interrogation room, the suit says.

More than 100 passengers and employees were evacuated from the terminal as commercial airline service was suspended.

Qayyum claims various law enforcement personnel and airport personnel interrogated her for more than nine hours. After the interrogation, a robot, which took five hours to arrive from Charleston, was brought in to attempt to detonate the face wash and bottle of water.

However, the robot was unsuccessful in igniting the items because they contained no explosives, the suit says. The items were then sent for chemical testing in a laboratory.

While waiting for the test results, Qayyum was taken by law enforcement personnel from the FBI and sheriff's department to her apartment in Huntington. Her apartment was searched and the law enforcement officers waited in the parking lot until the test results came back negative.

During her nine and a half hours of interrogation, Qayyum was denied access to counsel, was illegally detained, an illegal search of her apartment was made and she suffered great emotional distress, worry, anxiety for her health and for the health of her unborn child, the suit says.

When Qayyum's innocence was confirmed by the laboratory tests, FBI Agent James Harper drove her back to the airport to collect her baggage and make new reservations on US Airways for the first flight leaving Huntington the next day.

After booking her ticket, Qayyum was told that she should come to the airport very early because she would be going through a detailed security check before boarding the plane, the suit says.

The next day, Harper again took Qayyum to the airport, where she encountered local, national and international media awaiting her arrival. Qayyum claims she had not informed the media she would be flying, and only she and US Airways knew she would attempt to fly out that day.

According to the suit, US Airways made no arrangements for Qayyum to enter the terminal on Aug. 18, 2006, even though they told her to arrive early to ensure she would be able to board the flight.

Harper called US Airways and informed them that Qayyum had been cleared of all charges. However, US Airways did not allow Qayyum to redeem her ticket and fly. Qayyum eventually drove to Michigan.

Qayyum claims US Airways stripped her of her Fourteenth Amendment rights by discriminating against her based on her perceived race, color, religion, ancestry and national origin.

She claims the company also violated her Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights of protections from unlawful searches and seizures and preventing her from having an attorney present during her interrogation.

Qayyum claims she suffered, and will continue to suffer, humiliation, anxiety to fly, shame, despair, embarrassment, depression, mental pain, anguish, injury to her reputation and economic loss, in an amount to be proven at the time of trial.

In the six-count suit, Qayyum seeks actions against US Airways, for their actions in depriving her of her Constitutional rights, as well as unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Qayyum demands a trial in front of a jury.

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