Wednesday, May 29, 2024

New York City to pay $17.5 million for forcing to remove hijab for mug shots

Photo by Nada on Unsplash

New York City on Friday agreed to pay $17.5 million to settle a lawsuit by two Muslim-American women who said the police violated their rights after arresting them by forcing them to remove their hijabs before being photographed.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in 2018 by Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz, who said they felt shame and trauma when police forced them to remove their hijabs for their mugshots the prior year in Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively, Reuters reported. Both had been arrested for violating orders of protection that they called bogus.

Their lawyers likened removing the hijabs to being strip-searched.

Clark, who was arrested on a violation of an order of protection in Manhattan in 2017, said she “wept and begged to put her hijab back on” while standing in Police Headquarters at One Police Plaza with the head scarf around her shoulders, according to the complaint.

Aziz, who was also arrested on a violation of an order of protection, said she had a similar experience eight months later when she was arrested in Brooklyn. She sobbed as she “stood with her back to the wall, in full view of approximately one dozen male NYPD officers and more than 30 male inmates,” the complaint said.

Both called the charges against them bogus.

In response to the lawsuit, the Police Department in 2020 changed its policy to allow religious people to be photographed wearing head coverings, as long as the coverings were not obstructing their faces.

In a statement on Friday, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department said the lawsuit had “resulted in a positive reform for the NYPD.”

The preliminary class action settlement covers men and women required to remove religious attire before being photographed. Police can temporarily remove head coverings to search for weapons or contraband, but only in private settings by officers of the same gender.

Payouts will total about $13.1 million after legal fees and costs are deducted and could increase if enough of the more than 3,600 eligible class members submit claims. Each recipient will be paid between $7,824 and $13,125. According to the terms reached with the city, people who were forced to remove their religious head coverings between March 16, 2014, and Aug. 23, 2021, could qualify.

Albert Fox Cahn, a lawyer for Clark and Aziz, said the accord “sends a powerful message that the NYPD can’t violate New Yorkers’ First Amendment rights without paying a price.”

The financial settlement still requires approval by Judge Analisa Torres of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.


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