NYC Settles 3 Lawsuits over Religious Headgear Removed for Mugshots

The City of New York will pay total restitution of $180,000 to three Muslim women as settlements. The lawsuits claimed the women were forced to remove their religious headgear for mugshots.

On Monday, February 27, 2018, three lawsuits were reported as settled. All pertained to female suspects being booked by the New York City Police being forced to remove their hijabs or other religious headgear.

Some people may not understand what the big deal is about requiring a suspect to remove their hijab or other religious headgear for mugshots. Others may be questioning how this could have happened with laws that protect religious freedom. We’re going to take a look at the three cases and hopefully explain what happened and why these lawsuits were settled.

3 Women, 3 Different Cases

The payouts in question involve three different women forced to remove hijabs for their mugshots, but each case is from a separate incident. Currently, the identities of all three women remain confidential.

It appears the earliest of the cases relates to a woman referred to as G.E.

In 2012, G.E. was a high school student who was involved in an altercation with two other students. G.E. felt these young women were spreading rumors about her.

At the local police station, G.E. refused to remove her headscarf. She was taken to a room, out of view of male officers and prisoners. Her mugshot was taken by a woman.

However, when G.E. reached Brooklyn Central Booking, she was told there were no female officers available. She also was not given the option of being taken into a different room. Her mugshot was taken in front of male prisoners and male officers, without her hijab.

According to the suit filed, G.E. felt “exposed, violated and distraught.”

While specific details are scarce in the other two cases, what we do know is very similar to G.E.’s case, except that both occurred after 2015. One woman was forced to remove her veil at Brooklyn Central Booking. The third woman had her hijab removed at the scene of her arrest.

All three women were represented by lawyer Tahanie Aboushi.

A Compromise

The conflict between religious headgear and police policy has been an issue for a long time.

When someone is booked for a crime, police need to get a clear mugshot that can be used to identify them if they perpetrate further crimes.

But in the United States, this does come into conflict with the religious freedoms guaranteed by the government. For example, many Muslim women wear hijabs to protect their modesty and privacy, especially in the presence of men. Hijabs or other forms of headgear can also be worn as an important expression of one’s particular religion.

In 2015, a compromise of sorts was reached. For NYC Muslim mugshots, if the suspect refuses to take off their headgear, they have the choice to have a private mugshot taken, without headgear, in a separate room with an officer of the same sex. While this change wasn’t perfect (some additional changes have been made since then), it seemed to be the best compromise for everyone involved.

The Settlements

Due to the changes in New York City laws, it was felt that by both sides of the three lawsuits that a settlement was the best course of action. Each of the three women settled for $60,000.

Aboushi, the lawyer for all three cases, is not only happy about the settlement, but she also feels that the changes occurring when it comes to religious headgear are positive ones.

She told the New York Daily News, “On the one hand, it gives officers guidance, and on the other hand, it protects the exercise of religious freedom.”