Long Beach set­tles suit over hi­jab

Mus­lim woman whose head­scarf was forcibly re­moved by po­lice will be paid $85,000.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Veron­ica Rocha veron­ica.rocha @la­times.com Twit­ter: Veron­i­caRochaLA

The city of Long Beach has agreed to pay $85,000 to set­tle a fed­eral law­suit filed by a Mus­lim woman whose hi­jab was pulled off by a male of­fi­cer while she was in po­lice cus­tody.

The set­tle­ment, ap­proved Tues­day, con­cludes the le­gal bat­tle un­der­taken by Kirsty Pow­ell, an African Amer­i­can Mus­lim.

Her law­suit, filed in 2016, prompted the Long Beach Po­lice De­part­ment to re­verse a pol­icy bar­ring in­mates from wear­ing re­li­gious head cov­er­ings.

“There re­ally is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for tak­ing off a per­son’s re­li­gious head­gear,” said Pow­ell’s at­tor­ney, Marwa Ri­fahie, who also works for the Greater Los An­ge­les Area Chap­ter of the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Is­lamic Re­la­tions.

The case be­gan in May 2015 when Pow­ell and her hus­band were stopped by two of­fi­cers on Long Beach Boule­vard, Ri­fahie said.

She pro­vided them with her iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion. When of­fi­cers ran her name through their data­base, they dis­cov­ered she had three mis­de­meanor war­rants for petty theft, ve­hi­cle theft and re­sist­ing ar­rest, po­lice said.

Pow­ell was not aware that a war­rant had been is­sued for a 2002 petty theft of­fense, her at­tor­ney said.

The other war­rants had been is­sued af­ter Pow­ell’s sis­ter falsely used her name, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

As of­fi­cers pre­pared to ar­rest Pow­ell, her hus­band re­quested that a fe­male of­fi­cer be called to the scene be­cause phys­i­cal con­tact must be done by a woman, the law­suit con­tends.

The of­fi­cers re­fused and hand­cuffed Pow­ell, ac­cord­ing to the suit. She was then told she would have to re­move her hi­jab.

Pow­ell told the of­fi­cers “that she wears a hi­jab in ac­cor­dance with her re­li­gious prac­tice and that it is her le­gal right to wear it,” the law­suit said.

She was driven to the Long Beach po­lice sta­tion, where she was booked and stripped of her hi­jab in front of other male of­fi­cers and in­mates, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

Pow­ell was de­tained for 24 hours with­out her hi­jab. Once she was al­lowed to leave, she was given a prop­erty bag con­tain­ing it.

“She was held in the jail overnight, forced to sit in a cell feel­ing dis­traught, vul­ner­a­ble and naked with­out her head­scarf to ev­ery­one that passed,” the law­suit said.

“She cried through­out the or­deal and ex­pe­ri­enced hu­mil­i­a­tion when both her re­li­gious be­liefs and per­sonal in­tegrity were vi­o­lated. She felt that the male of­fi­cers and male in­mates had seen parts of her body that they should not have seen, ac­cord­ing to her re­li­gious be­liefs.”

Shortly af­ter her re­lease, Pow­ell reached out to CAIR, the Mus­lim civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tion, to go over her op­tions.

She filed the law­suit in April 2016, al­leg­ing that her 1st Amend­ment rights had been vi­o­lated.

The law­suit also con­tended that the city had vi­o­lated the Re­li­gious Land Use and In­sti­tu­tion­al­ized Per­sons Act, a fed­eral law pro­tect­ing the re­li­gious rights of in­mates.

In the months af­ter the suit was filed, the Po­lice De­part­ment over­hauled its pol­icy to al­low in­mates to wear their re­li­gious head cov­er­ings af­ter they have been searched.

“Af­ter a thor­ough assess­ment of our pol­icy, which in­cluded re­view­ing the pro­ce­dures used by other law en­force­ment agen­cies in the re­gion, it was de­ter­mined an amend­ment to our pol­icy was nec­es­sary,” the de­part­ment said in a state­ment to The Times.

“The Long Beach Po­lice De­part­ment re­spects the re­li­gious rights and be­liefs of all peo­ple, and con­tin­ues to re­view pol­icy, as law en­force­ment is an ever-evolv­ing pro­fes­sion.”

Fe­male of­fi­cers are now re­quired to re­move a fe­male in­mate’s head­scarf, “when nec­es­sary for of­fi­cer safety,” out­side the pres­ence of male of­fi­cers and in­mates, said Long Beach As­sis­tant City Atty. Monte Ma­chit. The head­scarf must then be re­turned to the in­mate.

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