NYC Pays $17.5 Million For Forcing Women to Remove Hijabs for Mugshots

NYPD millions settlement lawsuit mugshot hijab muslim women

New York City has agreed to pay $17.5 million to thousands of women who say their religious rights were violated when police forced them to remove their hijabs for mugshots.

On Friday, New York’s police department (NYPD) agreed to pay the multi-million dollar settlement for a 2018 class action lawsuit led by two practicing Muslim women Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz.

Lawyers say more than 3,600 people are eligible for pay-outs under the deal and that NYPD’s policy enforcing the removal of head coverings violated these women’s rights to privacy, as well as their religious freedoms.

The lawsuit also led to the NYPD changing its policy in 2020, to stop requiring people to remove religious head coverings such as hijabs or yarmulkes after their arrest, with limited exemptions if the covering obscured the individual’s facial features.

Mugshots are ‘Kept Forever’

In 2018, Clark and Aziz sued the city of New York saying they were left humiliated and tearful after they were both ordered to remove their hijabs while being photographed by police for mugshots.

Clark was arrested on January 9, 2017, while Aziz was arrested eight months later. According to their lawsuit, both women had been arrested for violating “bogus” protective orders filed by relatives or ex-relatives.

In the lawsuit, Clark says she was told that she would be “criminally prosecuted if she declined to remove her hijab,” and a supervisor at a booking office “made numerous hostile comments about Muslims.”

According to The Washington Post, Clark says that she “reluctantly removed her hijab to be photographed.” She says her booking photo was shown to “approximately five male NYPD officers” and “male officers touched Ms. Clark repeatedly, even though she explained that such contact violated her religion.”

Meanwhile, Aziz alleges that when she was arrested, officers refused to allow her to keep her hijab on for her photo, and refused her request that she “pull her hijab back only slightly to reveal her bangs and hairline.”

According to the lawsuit, Aziz had to take her mugshot photos “in full view” of about 12 male officers and more than 30 male inmates for almost five minutes, leaving her “frantic” and weeping.

In the lawsuit, Clark and Aziz also claim that booking photos are “kept forever” and can be seen by anyone who accesses the NYPD’s main database or looks at their paper file.

‘Justice for Thousands of New Yorkers’

The women argued that forcing someone to remove religious clothing is akin to a strip search and violated their First Amendment rights, as well as federal religious protections and state law.

In 2020, the NYPD changed its policy as a response to Clark’s and Aziz’s lawsuit, allowing people to be photographed with religious clothing as long as their faces weren’t covered.

“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 says in a statement on Friday.

“I’m so proud today to have played a part in getting justice for thousands of New Yorkers. This settlement proves I was right all those years ago when I said it was wrong to remove my hijab for a mugshot.”

The $17.5 million compensation deal is expected to be split among thousands of plaintiffs who were arrested between March 2014 to August 2021. Lawyers say individuals could receive payments of approximately $7,000 to $13,000. The settlement still requires approval by U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in federal court in New York.


Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.