Prosecutors weigh evidence in Spirit Airlines incident amid calls for hate crime charges

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne County prosecutors are reviewing a warrant request in connection with the arrest Saturday of a woman who is accused of assaulting a fellow airplane passenger and calling her a “Muslim terrorist” on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Wayne County Airport Authority Police officers boarded Spirit Airlines Flight 3807 from Atlanta as it sat on the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport tarmac after receiving a call about an unruly passenger, Wayne County Airport Authority spokesperson Erica Donerson said in an email Tuesday.

A Wayne County woman is suing Spirit Airlines for allegedly "recklessly" removing her daughter from a flight from Tampa to Detroit flight without her knowledge.

Officers “took the suspect into custody for assault and disorderly conduct,” Donerson said. “Due to witness statements alleging racial and religious slurs by the suspect, the police department released the suspect on an ‘out of custody’ warrant on Sunday and continued its investigation.

“This morning, the police department submitted a warrant recommendation to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, who will determine the appropriate charges,” Donerson said.

“The victim shared her video with our officers … our investigators shared all information and evidence we collected with the prosecutor’s office," Donerson said. "We did not recommend any specific charges.”

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said investigators from her office will review the material and decide whether to bring charges against the woman.

The incident was highlighted Sunday after the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a press release calling for hate crime charges against the woman. 

Aicha Toure

Aicha Toure, 29, told The Detroit News the woman was irate from the beginning of her flight to visit family in Flint, where she lived before she moved to Alabama.

“First, the woman had an argument with a flight attendant because he wouldn’t sell her alcohol,” Toure said. “She was being obnoxious the whole time. When we landed, everyone got their baggage, and next to me, a carry-on bag fell, and the handle hit me. The wheel grazed (the woman’s) leg, and when she didn’t get an apology, she said, ‘Ma’am, you hit me.’”

The woman began cursing at the woman whose bag fell, Toure said. 

“She said, ‘How about I drag you outside?’ The woman didn’t respond; it seemed like she didn’t understand what she was saying,” Toure said.

“I told her she was being disrespectful, and that she probably didn’t hit her with the bag on purpose,” Toure said. “I said, ‘She’s an older lady; you should be more respectful.’

"She looked at me and told me to mind my own business, and then she said, ‘Shut up you f------ Muslim terrorist.’”

Toure said she argued with the woman for a few minutes before noticing other passengers were filming the exchange with their cellphones, which she said prompted her to take out her phone to record the incident.

“She lunged toward me and punched my hand, attempting to punch the phone out of my hand,” she said.

Toure said flight attendants called the police, although she said they weren’t initially sure which agency to contact.

“They were trying to figure out whether to call the FBI because we were on a plane, but because we had touched down and were not in the air, they called (airport police).”

Toure said she and the other passengers were interviewed by police. She said she turned over video to police, although she said it didn’t capture the alleged anti-Islamic slur or alleged assault.

Spirit officials said in a press release Sunday: "We want each of our Guests to feel safe, welcome and respected. We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind," and added that the woman "is no longer welcome on any of our flights."

The incident is the latest in a string of altercations involving Spirit Airlines passengers, many of which were captured on video and posted online, including the alleged pummeling of two airline employees by a man and woman who were charged with aggravated assault.

Dawud Walid, director of CAIR Michigan, said Tuesday he was pleased to hear airport police submitted the warrant request.

“Outside of video, there were numerous eye and ear witnesses to the incident,” he said. “It’s just not an issue of a Muslim sister crying wolf.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN