LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) — The city of Long Beach has agreed to an $85,000 settlement of a lawsuit by a Muslim woman who had her hijab removed by a police officer when she was arrested.
Kirsty Powell, who is an African-American Muslim, filed a lawsuit against the Long Beach Police Department in 2016, causing the department to change its policy regarding inmates wearing headscarves for religious reasons, Fox News reported.
The original policy stated that police could ban inmates from wearing headscarves altogether.
“There really is no justification for taking off a person’s religious headgear,” Powell’s attorney Marwa Rifahie told the Los Angeles Times.
Police arrested Powell in May 2015 after two officers pulled her husband over for driving a lowrider vehicle, according to Rifahie.
When officers checked Powell’s identification, they discovered she had three outstanding warrants for misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest, petty theft, and car theft.
Rifahie said her client was not aware that a warrant for her arrest had been sent out for the petty theft charge in 2002, adding that the other two warrants were for Powell’s sister, who falsely used her sister’s name, according to the federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit also stated that Powell requested that police deploy a female to the scene because she said: “physical contact must be done by a woman.”
The officers refused her request and ordered Powell to remove her hijab. Powell did not comply, stating that she refused to do so because it was her “legal right” to wear the hijab for religious reasons, the lawsuit states.
Once officers booked her at the Long Beach police station, they removed her hijab in front of male officers and inmates.
“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.
Powell did not receive her hijab back until she was released from jail 24 hours later.
Powell filed a lawsuit against the city’s police department for violating her First Amendment rights and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Under the act, “individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions” are protected “from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws,” according to the Department of Justice.
The suit caused the Long Beach police to change its policies. Under the new policy, female officers can remove a female inmate’s religious head covering “when necessary” for the officer’s safety, Long Beach assistant city attorney Monte Machit said. The religious head covering would then be returned to the inmate.