Police briefly detained a white woman and her biracial daughter as they exited their Southwest Airlines flight in Denver because a flight attendant had reported that she suspected the mother of human trafficking.
After police questioned them, the two were allowed to continue on their way — but the mother is demanding an apology for the incident, which took place late last month.
“Throughout the encounter, my daughter was sobbing,” Mary MacCarthy told NBC News on Friday of how the incident affected her 10-year-old, Moira. She managed to film some of the encounter with her cell phone.
“I told them, ‘Look, we’re traveling for a death and she’s a Black girl who’s 10 but looks much older than she is.’ She unfortunately already has had charged encounters with police. Any kid’s going to be scared in a situation like this,” she explained.
According to a Denver Police Department report, officers went to the airport to investigate a “report of possible Human Trafficking reported by Southwest Flight Attendant.”
The case was subsequently closed, with the report noting that the flight attendant’s suspicion was “unfounded” and that no further action was necessary.
MacCarthy said the family has been “deeply traumatized by the assumption that just because we don’t have the same skin color [that] we’re involved in a very serious crime.”
Before “you call the police, stop and check your own possible biases … We should all be more educated than that and more sensitive now in 2021,” she said.
Mother and daughter were flying from Los Angeles to Denver to attend the funeral of MacCarthy’s brother, who had died suddenly.
The flight attendant reported the two as suspicious because they were the last to board and had asked other passengers to change seats so they could sit together, according the police report.
The flight attendant also said she didn’t see the two speak to each other and that MacCarthy had told her child not to talk to the flight crew — both claims MacCarthy denied.
When police approached her after the flight, MacCarthy said she went into “panic mode,” afraid there had been another death in the family.
She also said she later received a call from the Human Trafficking Unit at the Denver Police Department. She told NBC that she has yet to receive an apology.
Southwest said it is investigating.
“We were disheartened to learn of this mother’s account when traveling with her daughter,” the airline said in a statement. “We are conducting a review of the situation internally, and we will be reaching out to the customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies for her experience traveling with us,” the airline said.
Employees undergo “robust training on human trafficking,” the statement added.