Long Beach Police Policy Change on Hijabs Fails to Derail Federal Lawsuit

Kirsty Powell said her experience with Long Beach Police was "horrible."
Kirsty Powell said her experience with Long Beach Police was "horrible."
Courtesy of CAIR-LA

The Long Beach Police Department's announcement that it is changing policy so Muslim women can wear hijabs while in custody is being applauded by the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Greater Los Angeles office in Anaheim.

But the switch won't derail a CAIR-LA-backed federal lawsuit on behalf of Kirsty Powell, who was forced to remove her religious head scarf by a male Long Beach cop in 2015.

"We are still going to press forward for our client to get the justice she deserves," says Powell's attorney, Carey Shenkman, in a statement distributed by CAIR-LA.

A vehicle Powell was riding in with her husband was stopped near East Market Street and Dairy Avenue just before 1 p.m. May 5, 2015, because of its hydraulic suspension, which officers deemed unsafe, Long Beach Police Sgt. Bradley Johnson said at the time.

Officers determined Powell had three outstanding warrants—for vehicle theft, petty theft and resisting arrest—and took her into custody, Johnson said.

Male cops repeatedly told Powell to remove her hijab, but she made several requests to have a female cop search her, CAIR-LA said at the time.

"The officers informed her that she, 'was not allowed to wear her hijab' and that they were 'allowed to touch a woman,'" read a CAIR-LA advisory. "While handcuffed at the station house, the arresting officer allegedly forcibly removed Powell's religious head covering and forced her to remain exposed overnight, in plain view of other male officers and dozens of inmates."

That's not exactly how the police department put it: "During the booking process Powell’s hijab was removed and placed into her property bag where it was secured," Johnson said back then.

Added Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna: “We respect the religious rights and beliefs of all people and understand the sensitivity of this matter. The policies we have in place are for the safety of the individual, other inmates and police employees.”

But last month, Luna issued an order immediately overruling the policy, reports the Long Beach Press Telegram.

"While we welcome the proposal of the LBPD to change their policy to protect religious rights, we are adamant about seeing the department follow through on creating and implementing a sound policy that accommodates religious headwear," says CAIR-LA Civil Rights Attorney Yalda Satar in the release.

America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization offers a booklet titled “A Law Enforcement Official’s Guide to the Muslim Community."


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