A Muslim woman was awarded $85,000 by the city of Long Beach Tuesday after she sued the city’s police for removing her hijab against her will during an arrest in May 2015.
Kirsty Powell, an African-American Muslim, filed the lawsuit in 2016, causing the Long Beach Police Department to change its policy regarding inmates wearing head scarves due to their religion, according to The Los Angeles Times. Police originally banned inmates from wearing head scarves.
“There really is no justification for taking off a person’s religious headgear,” Marwa Rifahie, Powell’s attorney, told The Los Angeles Times.
Powell was arrested in May 2015 after she and her husband were pulled over by two officers due to the lowrider vehicle he was driving, Rifahie said.
After officers had checked Powell’s identification, they discovered she had three misdemeanor warrants on her record. The warrants were for resisting arrest, car theft and petty theft.
Rifahie said her client had no recollection of a warrant being sent out for a petty theft offense in 2002. The other two warrants were apparently not for Powell but for her sister, who falsely utilized her name, the federal lawsuit stated.
When officers went to arrest Powell, she asked them to deploy a female officer to the incident because “physical contact must be done by a woman,” the lawsuit stated.
The officers declined her request and told Powell to remove her hijab. Powell refused and told them: “that she wears a hijab in accordance with her religious practice and that it is her legal right to wear it,” according to the lawsuit.
After she was booked at the Long Beach police station, officers removed her hijab while in the view of male officers and inmates.
Powell was without her hijab for 24 hours until she was released.
“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,” according to the lawsuit. “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.”
Powell contacted CAIR, Council on American-Islamic Relations, following the ordeal. She filed a lawsuit in April 2016 and claimed the city’s police violated her 1st Amendment rights and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The act “protects individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws,” according to the Department of Justice.
Following the suit, the department changed its policies. Female officers can take off a female inmate’s head covering “when necessary for officer safety,” Monte Machit, Long Beach’s assistant city attorney, said. The religious head covering would then be delivered back to the inmate.