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Muslim woman wins $85,000 lawsuit after police remove her hijab during arrest

August 15, 2017

A Muslim woman was awarded $85,000 by the city of Long Beach, California, in a federal lawsuit settlement after she sued the city’s police for forcibly removing her hijab during an arrest in May 2015.

Kirsty Powell filed a lawsuit in 2016 alleging that the police department had violated her First Amendment rights. As a result of the lawsuit, the Long Beach Police Department reversed its policy that barred inmates from wearing religious head scarves, the Los Angles Times reported.

“There really is no justification for taking off a person’s religious headgear,” Powell’s attorney, Marwa Rifahie, told the LA Times.

“She cried throughout the ordeal and experienced humiliation when both her religious beliefs and personal integrity were violated,” the lawsuit said.

Powell and her husband were pulled over by police for driving a “low rider” car in 2015. After checking her identification, police found she had three misdemeanor warrants on her record, including resisting arrest, car theft and petty theft.

Two of the warrants were for Powell’s sister, who falsely used her sister’s name. Rifahie said Powell was not aware that she had a warrant for a petty theft offense in 2002.

Powell’s husband requested a female officer take care of the arrest because “physical contact must be done by a woman,” the lawsuit said.

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

When she was booked at the Long Beach police station, she was forced to publicly remove her hijab. She went 24 hours without her hijab before her husband posted her bail.

“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 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,” the lawsuit added.