LOS ANGELES (RNS) — A 26-year-old Muslim woman is suing the Los Angeles Police Department a year after she said officers forcibly removed her hijab.
The federal lawsuit, filed Thursday (Sept. 17) in the Central District of California, names the city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore, police Detective Corey Harmon and four officers as defendants.
On Sept. 17, 2019, officers handcuffed and searched Nusaiba Mubarak and forcibly removed her hijab at a police commission meeting held to discuss the fatal police shooting of Albert Ramon Dorsey, alleges the lawsuit, filed by the greater Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The Los Angeles Police Department, according to the lawsuit, violated Mubarak’s First Amendment rights by forcibly removing her headscarf without her permission in public. The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring the city and the Police Department to adopt policies prohibiting the removal of religious head coverings or headwear worn for religious practice by arrestees or detainees.
Officer William Cooper, a representative for LAPD, said he could not comment on pending litigation.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations and Mubarak detailed the incident at a virtual news conference held Thursday on Facebook Live.
Mubarak said she attended the police commission meeting to show her support for the family of Dorsey, who in 2018 was killed by police while he was in a locker room of a 24-Hour Fitness gym in Hollywood.
As Mubarak stood in line to speak, officers moved toward another speaker to “forcefully expel him from the room” after a commissioner accused him of exceeding his time, said the lawsuit.
That’s when Harmon walked toward the aisle where the activist was sitting and told Mubarak she was in his way. According to the lawsuit, Mubarak began to tell Harmon she wasn’t in the way, but Harmon grabbed her before she could finish. She was handcuffed with the assistance of two other officers.
“I was in line to speak and the activist was already seated when the policemen forcefully charged at me, handcuffed me, and prevented me from sharing a few words with the commission and the family of the victim,” Mubarak said at a news conference on Thursday.
While handcuffed, she was led to a room near where the meeting was being held. Mubarak was subjected to an “intrusive physical search,” although officers didn’t seem to know what they were searching for, said the lawsuit.
That’s when an officer grabbed Mubarak’s hijab and removed it without her consent, according to the lawsuit.
“A male officer watched as a female officer searched me and stripped off my hijab, without asking my permission or notifying me. I stood there, handcuffed, hands behind my back, unable to put my hijab back on my head. Needless to say, I was shocked and quite terrified,” Mubarak said at the news conference.
Mubarak said she felt exposed and humiliated.
“The only words that could come to my mind were, ‘You just removed my scarf. That’s a religious headscarf,’” she said.
Lena Masri, litigation director for CAIR National Legal Defense Fund, said it’s ironic Mubarak herself “became a victim of excessive force” during a public hearing about a police killing that was found to have violated LAPD policy.
“One of the most basic principles that our country was founded on and that is deeply ingrained in the United States Constitution is that the government is prohibited from interfering with our ability to practice our faith,” Masri said.
“There was absolutely no reason to forcefully remove Nusaiba’s hijab in front of another male officer,” Masri said.
Masri said they have received similar complaints of hijabs being senselessly removed in Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and other states.