A local Muslim woman has won $85,000 in damages from the City of Long Beach after her religious head scarf was forcibly removed by a police officer in 2015, according to a release from the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which filed the federal lawsuit on her behalf.
Kirsty Powell, who was 33 years old at the time, was a passenger in a vehicle when it was pulled over by Long Beach police on May 5, 2015. During the stop, police found three outstanding misdemeanor warrants, resulting in her arrest. When she was being booked her hijab was removed and placed in a property bag, the Long Beach Police Department said previously.
According to Powell, her hijab was forcibly removed by a male officer in view of other male officers and dozens of inmates.
“She was forced to spend the entire night exposed in custody and described the experience as deeply traumatizing,” CAIR-LA stated in the release sent out today.
Powell had made several requests for a female officer to search her, CAIR-LA stated previously. Officers informed her she was not allowed to wear a hijab and that they were allowed to touch a woman.
Her outstanding warrants have been since cleared.
“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 City Council voted on Tuesday to approve the settlement, according to CAIR-LA, which also stated that the LBPD amended its policy in November, after the suit was filed, to accommodate religious head coverings for persons in custody.
“Long Beach did the right thing by admitting that stripping Kirsty’s hijab stripped her of her religious freedom,” stated co-counsel Carey Shenkman, a constitutional lawyer based in New York. “I hope more cities follow this example by adopting policies to ensure the constitutional rights of Muslims are protected.”
San Bernardino and Orange counties have both adopted policies protecting religious headwear in detention following similar lawsuits settled in 2018 and 2013, respectively, according to CAIR-LA.