An Indiana University professor says she and a friend were unlawfully detained by Indianapolis Airport officials in 2012. Now, with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, she says she's fighting to protect Hoosier's constitutional rights.
In the summer of 2011, Christine Von Der Haar, a sociology professor at IU, reached out to an old friend who had attended an international school with her in Geneva, Switzerland, 40 years ago.
The two emailed back and forth for a year, until her friend, a Greek national, decided to come to Indiana for a weeklong visit.
The man had computer equipment and clothing shipped to Indiana from overseas. When they went to the customs office at the Indianapolis Airport to pick up his stuff, Von Der Haar says they began to get questioned.
"They looked at both of us and their first question I think was, 'Are you getting married?" Von Der Haar said.
Then, airport officials took Von Der Haar and her friend into separate rooms and began questioning them.
"Next thing she knows she's in a conference room doorway blocked by two officials asking her incredibly personal questions, and that seems to be a fourth amendment problem," said Ken Falk, the legal director for the Indiana ACLU.
That's why the ACLU decided to assist Von Der Haar in bringing forth a suit against the airport claiming her Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
"Whenever law enforcement or the government restrains us in a way that a reasonable person believes they are not free to leave, that violates the Fourth Amendment," Falk said.
Von Der Haar says the agents' questions made it feel like an interrogation.
"They asked me if we were having a sexual relationship," she said. "And to be honest, this whole thing was confusing."
Von Der Haar believes emails sent and received between her friend and her were read by government officials.
"I knew that the only reason an American citizen's email can be read is under the Patriot Act, which involved terrorism, so I knew immediately when they came up with this story about getting married it wasn't about that," she said.
The defendants in the case are two customs and border protection agents. The lawsuit states that one of the defendants admitted that government employees had read her emails.
"I want every American's rights under the United States Constitution protected and defended, and I think right now we don't have those rights anymore," Von Der Haar said. "And I can't believe somehow in my lifetime our constitution is being dismantled."
Von Der Haar said her questioning lasted about 30 minutes, but her friend was detained for nearly five hours. She officials seized his passport and it took him nearly three months to get it back, with the assistance of the Greek Consulate in Chicago.
Her friend is now back home in Athens, Greece, but Von Der Haar says she feels violated.
"We're not enemies. We are American citizens and I do not believe our government has the right to do this," she said.
Von Der Haar is seeking damages in the suit, and has requested a jury trial.