NYC agrees to pay $17.5m to thousands of Muslims police ordered to remove their hijabs for mugshots after two women arrested ‘on bogus charges by abusive family’ sued

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz sued New York City after their arrests in 2017
  • Police demanded they remove their hijabs or face additional criminal charges
  • Settlement will be shared between up to 4,100 Muslims who get at least $7,824

New York City has agreed to pay $17.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by two Muslim women who were forced to remove their hijabs for police mugshots.

Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz filed the class-action lawsuit in 2018 claiming they felt shamed and exposed and liked their treatment to be strip-searched.

‘When they forced me to take off my hijab, I felt as if I were naked. I’m not sure if words can capture how exposed and violated I felt,’ Clark said. 

‘I’m so proud today to have played a part in getting justice for thousands of New Yorkers.’

Clark was arrested at Manhattan Family Court on January 9, 2017, for allegedly violating a bogus protective order filed by her abusive former husband.

Jamilla Clark (pictured) and Arwa Aziz filed the class-action lawsuit in 2018 claiming they felt shamed and exposed and liked their treatment to be strip-searched 

The complaint alleged the husband ‘fabricated these charges to secure immigration status as a purported victim of domestic violence’. 

Clark was arrested a different time on the same trumped-up charges, but they were dismissed.

The lawsuit said officers at Police Headquarters at One Police Plaza threatened to prosecute Clark, who was sobbing after they ignored her pleas, if she did not remove her head covering.

She claimed a police supervisor ‘made numerous hostile comments about Muslims’ after she refused to remove the hijab.

‘Male officers touched Ms Clark repeatedly, even though she explained that such contact violated her religion, and denied her a place to wash for prayer and a place to pray,’ the lawsuit read.

They agreed to let a female officer take the mugshot, but male officers watched on a security camera and five of them were showed the photo afterwards. 

The lawsuit claimed Clark was so ‘agitated and distraught by the coerced removal of her hijab’ occurring while in custody that she was too afraid to wear one in public for the next month.

Clark said she was ‘haunted’ by the photo existing on the NYPD database and being repeatedly viewed by male strangers.

Clark (pictured around the time of her arrest in January 2017) said she was 'haunted' by the photo existing on the NYPD database and being repeatedly viewed by male strangers

Clark (pictured around the time of her arrest in January 2017) said she was ‘haunted’ by the photo existing on the NYPD database and being repeatedly viewed by male strangers

Aziz was arrested arrested after she handed herself in to police in Brooklyn on August 30, 2017, after being accused of breaching a bogus protective order filed by her sister-in-law.

The allegedly abusive sister-in-law repeatedly asked police to arrest Aziz and she finally submitted herself to arrest to refute the charges.

Officers refused to allow her to slightly putt back the hijab to show her hairline, and ‘crying hysterically’ she pulled it back around her neck. 

The lawsuit said she felt broken when her picture was taken where a dozen male police officers and more than 30 male inmates could see her.

‘Some of the male prisoners lining the hallway, respectful of Ms Aziz’s distress, thurned their backs in and effort afford her some privacy. None of the police officers in the hallway gave Ms Aziz the same courtesy,’ the lawsuit read.

Ms Aziz had been wearing the face covering every day for nearly seven years and ‘it is part of her, she cannot describe herself without her hijab’.

The lawsuit claimed the experience ‘severely traumatized Ms Aziz and caused her substantial and lasting emotional distress’.

Clark (pictured with her new husband in a more recent photo) claimed a police supervisor 'made numerous hostile comments about Muslims' after she refused to remove the hijab

Clark (pictured with her new husband in a more recent photo) claimed a police supervisor ‘made numerous hostile comments about Muslims’ after she refused to remove the hijab

City officials initially defended the practice of forcing people to remove head coverings for mug shots, saying the policy balanced respect for religious customs with ‘the legitimate law enforcement need to take arrest photos’.

But the police department changed the policy in 2020 as part of an initial settlement of the lawsuit and said it would allow arrested people to keep their head coverings on for mug shots with limited exceptions such as if the head covering obscures the person’s facial features.

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. 

The financial settlement was filed on Friday and requires approval by Judge Analisa Torres of Manhattan federal court.

City law department spokesperson Nick Paolucci said the settlement resulted in a positive reform for the police department and ‘was in the best interest of all parties’.

‘The agreement carefully balances the department’s respect for firmly held religious beliefs with the important law enforcement need to take arrest photos,’ he said. 

Clark was arrested at Manhattan Family Court (pictured) on January 9, 2017

Clark was arrested at Manhattan Family Court (pictured) on January 9, 2017

Andrew Wilson, who is representing the women along with the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said: ‘Forcing someone to remove their religious clothing is like a strip search. 

‘This substantial settlement recognizes the profound harm to the dignity of those who wear religious head coverings that comes from forced removal.’

Proceeds from the settlement will be shared equally among up to 4,100 eligible class members who respond by a deadline set by the judge.

There was a guaranteed minimum payment of $7,824 for each eligible person, which could be up to $13,125. The payout will be about $13.1 million after legal fees.

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

Domestic ViolenceNew York

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