LOS ANGELES (CN) – When a Southern California woman was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence last year she was told she could not wear her headscarf in the Ventura County Jail even though she’s Muslim, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court Monday.
Jennifer Hyatt, 44, said Ventura County officers yanked her hijab from her head and she suffered “severe discomfort, humiliation, and emotional distress,” according to the federal lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in California on her behalf.
On Jan. 1, 2017, Hyatt was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence near Thousand Oaks in California. When Ventura County Sheriff’s officers arrived on the scene she was placed into the back of a police car and was not allowed to explain what had happened in the incident between herself and her husband, according to the complaint.
“Ms. Hyatt asserted that she had never touched her husband and told the arresting officer that her arm was hurting,” said the complaint. The officer said he’d already seen her arm, but that was not possible because Hyatt was wearing long sleeves at the time.
In accordance with her religious beliefs, Hyatt covers her head and much of her body for the sake of dignity, modesty, and bodily integrity, according to the complaint. But at the Ventura County Jail a female deputy “snatched one piece of Ms. Hyatt’s two-piece hijab off of her head” while male officers were in the room.
Despite being searched and explaining she can’t be seen by other men without her hijab because she’s Muslim, an officer said, “Not in here, you’re not,” according to the complaint.
“She cried throughout the ordeal and experienced humiliation when both her religious beliefs and personal integrity were violated,” according to the complaint.
“She felt that the male officers and male inmates had seen parts of her body that they should not have seen, according to her religious beliefs. Ms. Hyatt, who hails from Arkansas, was shocked and disappointed to receive such treatment in the supposedly tolerant state of California.”
When Hyatt said she deserved constitutional protection for her religious beliefs an officer yanked off the second part of her hijab and left her uncovered, she says in the lawsuit.
She asked for a blanket to cover herself but was denied, she says, adding her fingerprints were taken by a male officer.
Hyatt was placed in a room with glass walls where she could be viewed by other men without her hijab as a means to intimidate her, according to her complaint. She tried to cover her head with her hands.
She says she was taken to a cell with other women in custody, but was not provided any type of cover for her head and her hijab was only returned to her after her husband posted bond and she was released from jail.
A booking photo was taken without her headscarf and this also distresses Hyatt, according to the complaint.
Hyatt is also represented by Los Angeles-based attorney Erin Darling, who said in a statement, “It is shocking that in 2018 the county of Ventura permits its sheriff’s deputies to strip a Muslim woman of her religious head covering.”
She added, “Religious expression is protected under the law and the county of Ventura cannot single out Muslim women as being undeserving of this basic right.”
In a statement, Hyatt said, “I am seeking justice because I do still have the right to be a covered Muslim woman – even in jail.”
Named defendants include Ventura County, its sheriff’s department and Sheriff Geoff Dean.
Hyatt seeks compensatory and punitive damages on claims of federal and California civil rights violations.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said it hasn't seen the lawsuit and doesn't comment on pending litigation.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.