Lawsuit That Accuses Deputy of Forcibly Removing Woman’s Hijab Aims to Change Ventura County Policy, Group Says

A lawsuit filed against the Ventura County Sheriff's Office based on a woman's claim that a deputy "yanked" her hijab off her head while in custody was aimed at changing the agency's policies, an advocacy group said on Wednesday.

Marwa Rifahie, an attorney with Council on American–Islamic Relations Los Angeles, said the deputy's alleged action violated the First and 14th amendments, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the California Constitution.

Asked whether or not the deputy violated any department policy, Rifahie said the Sheriff's Office did not have any guidlines on religious accommodations specific to dress and grooming.

"The fact that they don't have any rules violates the law," Rifahie said at a news conference. "They're under obligation to comply with federal law."

Jennifer Hyatt, a 44-year-old nurse from Newbury Park, was arrested on New Year's Day 2017 after a domestic dispute, according to CAIR-LA.

An off-duty officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department saw her and her husband arguing in Thousand Oaks and separated them before alerting local officials, Rifahie told The Los Angeles Times.

Ventura County deputies who responded to the scene ignored Hyatt's claims of injuries, the lawyer said, and they took her into custody on suspicion of domestic battery.

Hyatt said she told deputies at Ventura County Jail she can't be seen by others without her hijab as a Muslim woman.

According to her, the officer responded, "Not in here, you're not."

"My hijab was yanked off my head in front of many men despite my continued requests to wear it," Hyatt said. "I felt naked and humiliated the entire duration of my custody."

Rifahie said the officer "forcefully removed" the hijab without asking Hyatt to take it off herself.

Hyatt was bailed out of jail by her husband four hours after her arrest, and the battery charges against her were later dismissed, the L.A. Times reported.

Rifahie said after CAIR-LA filed a similar lawsuit against the Long Beach Police Department, the agency amended its policy in November 2017 to  allow religious head covering for people in custody.

The attorney noted that legal action also prompted change in law enforcement agencies in Orange and San Bernardino counties.

Rifahie said that while one of the lawsuit's objectives was for Hyatt to be compensated for the "trauma she's been through," another goal was to bring about policy changes at the Ventura County Sheriff's Office.

"I want to see it in writing," Rifahie said. "I want to see that it’s being enforced through training their deputies," the lawyer said.

The Sheriff's Office declined to comment on the case.