A Muslim woman who says she was forced to remove her hijab in front of male jailers while taking a booking photo has received a $120,000 settlement from a Minnesota county, her attorneys said.
Aida Shyef Al-Kadi said Tuesday that she pursued a federal lawsuit against Ramsey County to ensure that no other Muslim woman in her area would be forced to violate their religious beliefs if they ended up in jail.
The 57-year-old said that what she experienced at Ramsey County jail in August 2013 was “one of the most humiliating and harmful experiences of my life.”
“I knew that I did not want any other Muslim woman to experience what I did,” Al-Kadi said at a press conference held by Minnesota’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to announce the settlement.
Al-Kadi’s arrest stems back to a traffic citation for driving without her license, the Star Tribune reports. She says she missed a court date for the offense in June 2013 because she had to take her daughter to the hospital for an emergency. A judge issued a warrant for her arrest soon after.
After she turned herself in, Al-Kadi claims that Ramsey County jail officers told her to take off her hijab and abaya ― a long, loose-fitting over-garment ― in front of male jailers. When she objected, she claims she was forcefully yanked into a holding cell, where had to remove her hijab in front of a male jailer.
She said she agreed to remove her hijab for a booking photo after being promised the picture wouldn’t be released to the public. Afterwards, the officers reportedly gave her a bedsheet to use as a hijab.
“They did it in such a way that was a humiliation, tossing the sheet to me as they yanked my hijab off,” Al-Kadi said Tuesday.
Al-Kadi was then kept in her cell for 23 hours for “argumentative behavior,” the Star Tribune reported. She resolved her arrest warrant the next day and was released.
Al-Kadi’s booking photo became public record and available for release upon request, CAIR reports. Al-Kadi also said she found a copy of her photo on a third-party website that charges users to have their photos taken down.
Al-Kadi approached CAIR in 2013 for legal assistance. The case was first sent to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, but the charges were deemed unfounded. Al-Kadi then decided to represent herself in court, studying law at a local law library.
“I don’t have any experience [with law],” Al-Kadi said. “I just was desperate, I really wanted it to happen. I felt like letting it go would not really be justice, there’s other women who would probably have the same issue I had, so it was very important to me.”
She eventually received help for her lawsuit from volunteer attorneys after being referred to the Pro Se Project.
Ramsey County updated its policies in 2014 to ensure that Muslim women who wear the hijab won’t be forced to remove the head coverings in front of men. The county now offers these women jail-approved headscarves.
As part of the settlement with Al-Kadi, which was approved by a judge last month, the county agreed to destroy hard and electronic versions of Al-Kadi’s booking photo. The settlement also required the county’s Sheriff’s Office to train corrections officers on how to offer religious accommodations to inmates.
The county was not required to admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, the Star Tribune reports.
“We believe that this settlement agreement is fair and in the best interests of all of our residents,” Ramsey County board chair Jim McDonough said in a statement to Minnesota Public Radio. “The county board looks forward to updates from the sheriff’s office as implementation of these practices continues.”
Caitlinrose Fisher, one of the volunteer lawyers, praised Al-Kadi’s bravery in pursuing the case.
“She made it clear from the beginning that this case wasn’t about looking backward, it was about looking forward and standing up not only for herself, but for the broader Muslim community; and standing up for the broader Muslim community is precisely what Ms. Al-Kadi did,” Fisher said at the press conference.