New York City to pay $17.5m for forcing women to remove hijabs for mugshots

Two Muslim-American women say police department violated their rights

The preliminary class action settlement covers men and women required to remove religious attire before being photographed. AP
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New York City agreed to pay $17.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by two Muslim-American women who said the police violated their rights after arresting them and forcing them to remove their hijabs before being photographed.

The preliminary class action settlement covers men and women required to remove religious attire before being photographed. It was filed on Friday in Manhattan federal court, and requires approval by US District Judge Analisa Torres.

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.

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.

Both had been arrested for violating orders of protection that they called bogus.

Their lawyers likened removing the hijabs to being strip searched.

“When they forced me to take off my hijab, I felt as if I were naked,” Ms Clark said in a statement provided by her lawyers.

“I'm not sure if words can capture how exposed and violated I felt.”

In response to the lawsuit, New York's police department agreed in 2020 to let men and women wear head coverings during mugshots, so long as their faces could be seen.

“This settlement resulted in a positive reform for the NYPD,” said Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city's law department.

“The agreement carefully balances the department's respect for firmly held religious beliefs with the important law enforcement need to take arrest photos.”

The new policy extended to other religious headwear, including wigs and yarmulkes worn by Jews and turbans worn by Sikhs.

Police can temporarily remove head coverings to search for weapons or contraband, but in private settings by officers of the same gender.

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

People forced to remove head coverings between March 16, 2014, and August 23, 2021, are eligible for the settlement.

Updated: April 05, 2024, 9:06 PM