CAIR-LA Files Suit on Behalf of Muslim Woman Stripped of Hijab by Long Beach Police Officers

(ANAHEIM, CA, 5/2/16) – The Greater Los Angeles Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) today announced the filing of a lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court on behalf of a Muslim woman who allegedly had her religious head scarf (hijab) forcibly removed by a male officer of the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD).
 
Kirsty Powell and her husband, who are both African-American, were driving near Market St. and Long Beach Boulevard when they were pulled over by the LBPD. Powell was arrested on an outstanding warrant. During the arrest she was told by the officers that she would have to remove her head scarf. Powell made several requests for a female officer to search her.  The officers informed her that she, "was not allowed to wear her hijab” and that they were “allowed to touch a woman.”
 
While handcuffed at the station house, the arresting officer allegedly forcibly removed Powell’s religious head covering and forced her to remain exposed overnight, in plain view of other male officers and dozens of inmates.  
 
“The actions taken by the Long Beach Police officers were unwarranted and a serious violation of Mrs. Powell’s bodily integrity,” said CAIR-LA Civil Rights attorney Yalda Satar. “The manner in which Mrs. Powell was treated by LBPD officers was simply a show of authority over a woman of color who was unable to protect herself, and is another example of the type of discrimination faced by women who wear a hijab.”
 
Satar added that religious rights are particularly important for police to protect, given the rise in hate crimes against the American Muslim community.
 
During Powell’s booking and subsequent search, at least four female officers were on duty, including one that escorted her to a holding cell after her headscarf had been removed.
 
SEE COMPLAINT HERE

“I would never want anyone to go through what I felt from this experience, it was horrible,” said Powell.  “I want my Muslim sisters to always feel comfortable and safe wearing a hijab and to stand up for what's right. We are all human, we all deserve justice.”
 
Policies allowing for religious head wear have been adopted at the federal level and by neighboring counties, such as Orange County and San Bernardino. 
 
Two years ago, LBPD investigated an incident involving the removal of a Muslim-American woman's hijab and deemed it a "hate crime." Police Chief Jim McDonnell stated that “crimes of this nature will not be tolerated in our city." 
 
The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with First Amendment and Human Rights attorney Carey Shenkman, alleges violations under the First Amendment, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), Bane Act, and the California Constitution.
 
"There was no excuse for male officers to strip Mrs. Powell's First Amendment freedoms and dignity from her, in front of other male officers and dozens of inmates. The LBPD must honor its pledge that prejudice toward Muslim-American women will 'not be tolerated in our city," said Shenkman.
 
CAIR offers a booklet, called “A Law Enforcement Official’s Guide to the Muslim Community,” which outlines basic information about Islamic beliefs that are relevant to law enforcement.  It also cover issues such as the rights of Muslim law enforcement officers, religiously-sensitive techniques for body searches, proper etiquette for entering Muslim homes, and advice on outreach to the Islamic community.
 
SEE: A Law Enforcement Official’s Guide to the Muslim Community
 

CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

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CONTACT: CAIR-LA Communications Coordinator Ojaala Ahmad, 714-776-1847 or email oahmad@cair.com