NYC settles lawsuit over forced removal of head coverings when religiously observant person is under arrest

Graham Rayman, New York Daily News

The NYPD will no longer force religiously observant people under arrest to remove their head coverings, like hijabs — an agreement with civil rights groups that ends nearly three years of litigation.

The police practice, often done to take mugshots or do searches, affected thousands of New Yorkers, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, which filed the lawsuit, alleged.

The partial settlement requires the NYPD to stop forcing people to remove head coverings — except if there’s reasonable suspicion they’re being used as a disguise.

The settlement also requires the NYPD to create a private area for searching and photographing those with head coverings, and to disclose the annual number of such cases. In addition, there’s a provision for training cops on the new practice.

“This is a milestone for New Yorkers' privacy and religious rights,” STOP Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn said. “No one should be forced to undress just to be fed into a facial recognition database. New Yorkers are able to get a drivers' license or passport while wearing the hijab, and there’s absolutely no reason for it to be removed by police."

Cahn said the lawsuit will continue, seeking punitive damages for the practice. Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz filed the class action suit in 2018, alleging the practice violated their constitutional rights.

“The policy changes we have obtained are a blueprint for the nation’s police departments," said Andrew Wilson, the lead lawyer in the case. "Law enforcement interests can be served without violating religious freedom. This settlement protects both.”

In a statement, Patricia Miller of the city’s Law Department said the change in policy “is a good reform for the NYPD.”

“It carefully balances the department’s respect for firmly held religious beliefs with the legitimate law enforcement need to take arrest photos, and should set an example for other police departments in the country,” she said.

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