A Muslim woman has won $85,000 in damages from the city of Long Beach, California, after her religious head scarf was forcibly removed by a local police officer, according to court papers obtained Thursday.
Kirsty Powell filed a federal civil rights complaint after a 2015 arrest, during which she said police officers forcibly removed her hijab in view of other male officers and dozens of jail inmates. Powell, who wears the hijab as part of her religious beliefs, was forced to spend the night without the covering while in custody. She described the experience as deeply traumatizing, according to the complaint.
The Long Beach City Council voted Tuesday to approve the settlement.
After the suit was filed, the Long Beach Police Department amended its policy to accommodate religious head coverings for persons in custody. Long Beach joins neighboring jurisdictions of Orange and San Bernardino counties, which both adopted similar policies following lawsuits.
"We commend Kirsty Powell for choosing to defend her right to religious freedom and taking action," said civil rights attorney Marwa Rifahie of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Powell was arrested during a traffic stop in May 2015 on outstanding warrants. During the arrest, she was told by the officers that she would have to remove her hijab. Powell made several requests for a female officer to search her and was denied requests to continue wearing her hijab in custody. The officers informed her that she was "not allowed to wear her hijab" and that they were "allowed to touch a woman," the lawsuit states.
"I would never want anyone to go through what I felt from this experience," Powell said in a statement when the suit was filed last year in Los Angeles federal court. "I want my Muslim sisters to always feel comfortable and safe wearing a hijab and to stand up for what's right."