4/11/2021
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Deputies force Muslim woman to remove hijab after arrest in Santa Clara County, group says


By Lauren Hernandez, Michael Williams
Friday April 2, 2021

Deputies force Muslim woman to remove hijab after arrest in Santa Clara  County, group says
This file photograph shows the exterior of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, March 8, 2018, in San Jose, Calif.Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle


The Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says a Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy forced a Muslim woman to remove her hijab after her arrest in February, and the woman wants the county to change its practices.

The woman - whose name was not released by the council, citing privacy concerns— called 911 after a domestic dispute in February, said Ammad Rafiqi, a civil rights and legal services coordinator at the council. The woman, who the council said is of Somali origin, was arrested on suspicion of a domestic-violence related charge and taken to the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas.

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A deputy asked the woman to remove her hijab, Rafiqi said. When she refused, the deputy reportedly said that if she didn't remove her hijab, it would be physically removed from her, Rafiqi said. During the booking process, the woman had “immediately informed officers that her headscarf was worn for religious purposes and that it should not be removed in the presence of men,” council officials said.

The woman eventually complied and removed her hijab, instead using her sweater to cover her head during the booking process, council officials said in a statement. After getting booked, council officials said her clothing was taken away and she was given jail clothes to wear.

"It was forcibly removed in the sense that she felt coerced and threatened," Rafiqi said. He went on to say that the act of removing a Muslim woman's head covering is a violation of her Constitutional rights.

Sheriff's officials told The Chronicle on Thursday that they are "thankful to CAIR for making us aware of this incident" and are investigating to "determine if policy was followed, including a review of our current booking protocol."

Authorities did not disclose what their current policies and protocols are with regard to removing religious head coverings such as hijabs, but said that they are committed to ensuring the safety of people in their jail facilities, “including the consideration of appropriate religious accommodations when applicable. "

“Currently, inmates that identify as female take a booking photograph on the female intake portion of the booking area, which is separate from the male intake area,” sheriff's officials said. "The Sheriff's Office also allows for hijab's to be provided at the housing unit via a vendor who coordinates religious accommodations when the hijab does not present a safety risk due to the arrestee's current mental health evaluation."

Rafiqi said the woman is not looking to file a lawsuit against the sheriff's office, but wants deputies to undergo cultural competency trainings and create policies that explicitly prohibit religious coverings being removed during the booking process.

The council is also demanding that an apology be given to the woman, and a meeting with the involved deputies.

After she was booked, council officials said, she requested a second shirt to cover her head while in jail because her hijab was never returned. At the time of her release, council officials said, the woman was not informed of her charges or court hearing dates.

Her criminal case was eventually dropped, Rafiqi said.

In a statement Thursday, the woman called the experience a "degrading and discriminatory encounter" that has left her "scarred."

"Not only has it caused me constant emotional distress, but now I will have to reconsider before reaching out to law enforcement during times of danger out of fear of being targeted," she said. "I want to make sure that the SCC Sheriff's Office is held accountable for their actions, and that no woman's hijab is forcibly removed without her consent again."

Sheriff's officials said they are working with "stakeholders to ensure that our booking procedures provide appropriate safety procedures while balancing one's religious practice expectations."



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