More than two years after a Muslim-American woman claimed a California police officer forcibly removed the hijab from her head during a traffic stop, the city of Long Beach has voted to pay the woman more than $80,000 for the incident
The Council on American-Islamic Relations announced this week that a federal lawsuit filed by the group on behalf of plaintiff Kirsty Powell had been settled, after a vote on Tuesday by the Long Beach City Council. In addition to the $85,000 in damages awarded to Powell, the suit “prompted a city-wide policy change by the Long Beach Police Department to ban the practice of forcible removal of the hijab for female arrestees in custody,” CAIR-LA Civil Rights Attorney Marwa Rifahie said in the statement.
According to Powell’s suit, she was arrested in May 2015 after a routine traffic stop turned up several misdemeanor warrants for her arrest—one she was unaware of, and two others stemming from her sister’s fraudulent use of her name.
Despite explaining her hijab’s religious significance, Powell alleged that the head covering was forcibly removed by a male officer during her arrest, and not returned to her until she was released from jail the following day.
“She cried throughout the ordeal and experienced humiliation when both her religious beliefs and personal integrity were violated,” the lawsuit claimed. “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.”
After Powell’s suit was filed, a police spokesperson confirmed that “during the booking process Powell’s hijab was removed and placed into her property bag where it was secured.”
In a statement released at the time, Police Chief Robert Luna wrote:
The police department has a duty to protect all people who are in their custodial care, and one of the policies that protects inmates is that certain items are not allowed to be retained by a prisoner while in custody. These items include belts, neckties, shoelaces, and head coverings.
According to Rifahie, the settlement with the city also ensured that Long Beach would not publish Powell’s mugshot, taken after the hijab had been removed from her head.
In late 2016, following Powell’s lawsuit, the LBPD changed their policy to allow religiously observant arrestees to retain their head coverings, as long as authorities don’t believe those garments pose a safety risk for the person.