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Long Beach to Pay $85K in Settlement After Police Forcibly Removed Woman's Hijab

How does an apparently routine traffic stop turn into an $85,000 settlement? When an arresting officer allegedly forcibly removes a Muslim woman's hijab, requiring her to have her head exposed overnight in a jail cell, in plain view of other male officers and dozens of inmates, and have her publicly available booking photo taken without her head covered.

"I would never want anyone to go through what I felt from this experience, it was horrible," Kirsty Powell said when she filed her lawsuit against the city of Long Beach, Police Chief Robert Luna, and six Long Beach Police officers. "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."

Religious Freedom

The Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed the lawsuit on behalf of Powell, and announced the settlement last week. "We commend Kirsty Powell for choosing to defend her right to religious freedom and taking action," said CAIR-LA Civil Rights Attorney Marwa Rifahie in a statement. "In addition to compensating Kirsty for the humiliation and distress she suffered, this decision also 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."

The Long Beach Police Department amended its policy last November to accommodate religious head coverings for persons during arrest and detention. Female officers are now required to remove headscarves, away from male officers and inmates, and only "when necessary for officer safety."

Discriminatory Arrest

According to the arrest report, officers pulled over Powell and her husband in a "lowrider car," determining that the vehicle's hydraulic suspension made the passenger unsafe. Powell was the passenger, and officers discovered three outstanding misdemeanor warrants for her (for vehicle theft, petty theft and resisting arrest, all of which have since been cleared) leading to her arrest.

Powell's lawsuit claims that both she and her husband requested female officers handle her arrest, search, and detention, but those requests were denied, even though, she claims, there were several female officers present, including one that escorted Powell to her cell.

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