Muslim woman forced to remove hijab by police files lawsuit against Ferndale

Nov 1, 2021 at 3:29 pm
click to enlarge File photo of a woman wearing a hijab. - Shutterstock
File photo of a woman wearing a hijab.

A Muslim woman has sued the city of Ferndale, arguing the city violated her religious rights by forcing her to remove her hijab for a booking photo following her arrest.

The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court on behalf of Helana Bowe, who was pulled over by Ferndale police on June 21 for allegedly driving with an expired license plate tag. During the traffic stop, she told police she had a Taser for self-defense after she had been mugged earlier in the year.

Police arrested her, saying state law requires people to have a permit to possess a Taser.

At the police department, a male officer searched Bowe, even though she requested a female officer. She was then required to remove her hijab for a booking photo, which is a violation of her religious beliefs, CAIR-MI said.

CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid said the group decided to file the lawsuit after Ferndale officials declined to discuss the violation of Bowe’s religious beliefs.

"By failing to formally respond to our concerns raised on behalf of our client's civil rights having been violated, we were left with no other option but to sue the Ferndale Police," Walid said in a statement. "Though the city touts itself as being a municipality of diversity and inclusion, it appears that its police department is not serious about this claim when it comes to Muslims." 

CAIR-MI staff attorney Amy Doukoure said police mishandled the case from the time they pulled over Bowe.

“The Ferndale Police Department’s entire conduct on June 21, 2021, was problematic, starting with its dragnetting of the city of Detroit side of Eight Mile road looking to engage in traffic stops of individuals who have no connection with the city of Ferndale,” Doukoure said. “The Ferndale Police’s problematic conduct only escalated when officers allegedly violated Ms. Bowe’s constitutionally protected religious rights by subjecting her to a cross-gender search unnecessarily and forcibly removing her hijab for a booking photograph. It is surprising that a city that prides itself on its vast diversity and claims to strive for inclusivity finds itself silent on its own insensitive treatment of a religious minority in their care and custody.” 

In a statement in September, Ferndale Police Chief Dennis Emmi defended his officers but acknowledged there was room for improvement.

“Our officers were simply following departmental policy, which includes a photographing hair as an in important identifying feature,” Emmi said. “Now, in reviewing the case and circumstances, I see the opportunity for our policies to evolve to better meet the needs of our community.”

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