Officers Removed Woman's Hijab Without Permission During Public Hearing About Police Shooting, Lawsuit Alleges

A lawsuit filed against the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) alleges officers handcuffed and forcibly removed a woman's hijab while she was waiting to speak during a public hearing about an officer-involved shooting last September.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles (CAIR-LA) and the CAIR National Legal Defense Fund announced the lawsuit on Thursday, which they filed on behalf of a Muslim American woman named Nusaiba Mubarak. The City of Los Angeles, LAPD Chief Michel Moore, LAPD detective Corey Harmon and four unnamed officers were also listed as co-defendants in the case.

The lawsuit alleges that LAPD officers violated Mubarak's First and Fourth Amendment rights when they handcuffed her, searched her and took her hijab off in the presence of a man to whom she is not related or married, which her religion does not allow.

Mubarak filed the lawsuit "to challenge illegal LAPD behavior that callously humiliated her, stripped her of a religious garment in front of others, and erased her chance to address the public body that oversees the very officers who violated her rights," court documents said.

Los Angeles Police Department headquarters
The Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters in Los Angeles, California, is photographed on September 10, 2017. A lawsuit filed Thursday against the LAPD alleges that officers forcibly removed a woman’s hijab during a public hearing about an officer-involved shooting last year. Raymond Boyd/Getty

According to the lawsuit, Mubarak was waiting in line to speak during a public hearing about a fatal officer-involved shooting on September 17, 2019, when Harmon approached and said she was blocking his path. When Mubarak tried to explain that she was in line to speak, Harmon handcuffed her and led her into a room nearby, where one female officer searched her and removed her hijab while another male officer watched, the lawsuit alleges.

Mubarak explained the religious importance of her hijab and asked for it to be returned but was told to "just wait a minute" by the female officer as she attended to some paperwork, the lawsuit alleges.

"Ms. Mubarak considers the removal of her hijab without her consent and outside the prescriptions of her faith to be a serious breach of her religious beliefs," the court documents say.

Neither of the officers involved in the search knew why Mubarak was brought to them, and she was later released without being charged, according to the lawsuit.

"It is shocking that the Los Angeles Police Department, which serves thousands of Muslim women, would permit its officers to strip a Muslim woman of her religious head covering, which violates her Constitutional rights," CAIR-LA attorney Dina Chehata said in a news release.

The public hearing Mubarak attended at the time of the alleged incident was convened to discuss Albert Ramon Dorsey, a Black man whom officers fatally shot at a 24 Hour Fitness in October 2018. The Los Angeles Police Commission later said that the shooting was a violation of LAPD policy and was not justified, as Moore initially said.

Mubarak's lawsuit said she "became a target of LAPD officers" as she waited to participate in the public discussion about Dorsey's death.

"I decided to share my story, and along with CAIR, file this lawsuit against the LAPD because I want to protect the rights of freedom of religion of every single woman in America," Mubarak said in the CAIR news release.

The LAPD declined to comment to Newsweek on the pending litigation.

The lawsuit cites the Federal Bureau of Prisons' policy allowing female prisoners to wear hijabs and the U.S. Department of State's rule allowing people to keep hijabs and other religious headwear on while posing for passport photos as part of its argument for Mubarak's case. The lawsuit also mentions two similar cases that CAIR-LA representatives brought previously against officers accused of removing hijabs in Ventura County and Long Beach.

"These examples show a growing national consensus that there is no basis to require the removal of religious headwear while in detention or custody," the lawsuit says.

Update (9/18/2020, 6:10 p.m. ET): This article has been updated to include a response from the Los Angeles Police Department.