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Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Denies Deputy ‘Yanked’ Hijab Off Woman’s Head While in Custody

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday denied a woman’s claim that a deputy “yanked” her hijab off her head while in custody, saying the agency had recordings of the interaction but did not plan to release them.

Jennifer Hyatt is shown in an undated photo. Hyatt claims in a federal lawsuit that Ventura County Sheriff's Office deputies removed her hijab and refused to give her an alternate form of cover when they arrested her in 2017. (Credit: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Jennifer Hyatt is shown in an undated photo. Hyatt claims in a federal lawsuit that Ventura County Sheriff’s Office deputies removed her hijab and refused to give her an alternate form of cover when they arrested her in 2017. (Credit: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Jennifer Hyatt, a 44-year-old nurse from Newbury Park, was arrested on suspicion of battery on New Year’s Day 2017 after a domestic dispute in Thousand Oaks, according to the Council on American–Islamic Relations Los Angeles.

She complained of injuries but was ignored by officers, according to the advocacy group.

“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.”

Her husband bailed her out in four hours and charges were later dismissed, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Marwa Rifahie, a lawyer with CAIR-LA, said the organization filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office to have Hyatt compensated for her “trauma” and to compel the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office—which had no guidelines on accommodations specific to religious attire— to change its policies.

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean responded  to that lawsuit on Sunday, four days after CAIR-LA and Hyatt announced the lawsuit.

In a statement, Dean said the department had recordings from Hyatt’s arrest and custody that dispute her account.

The sheriff said an L.A. County deputy saw Hyatt  jump out of a car on Thousand Oaks Boulevard on Jan. 1, 2017.

According to Dean, a Ventura County Sheriff’s deputy responded to the scene and arrested Hyatt after an investigation that was recorded on a body camera. Hyatt was booked at the pre-trial detention facility in Ventura, the sheriff said.

There, women deputies removed Hyatt’s hijab in a manner Dean described as “deliberately respectful, patient and gentle.”

A camera in the booking area recorded the interaction, Dean said.

“In fact, a portion of the hijab is initially removed so a nurse could examine possible injuries Ms. Hyatt allegedly suffered in her vehicle,” the statement said. “The observable body language and the audible conversation of all those involved at the jail, including Ms. Hyatt, is one of respect, and at no point was it indicative of hostility, malfeasance, or disdain.”

Dean said although Hyatt was never heard asking to keep her hijab, the agency did not contest her claim of making the request and being denied.

“We believe the removal of her hijab was legal for the safety and security of the jail,” Dean said. “However, under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, arguably, we should have offered an accommodation and we did not. This practice has been rectified. ”

The sheriff said he spoke to CAIR’s media director before the group announced the lawsuit on Wednesday.

According to Dean, he told the media director that the Sheriff’s Office should have offered to accommodate Hyatt and that it has corrected that practice.

The agency’s legal counsel also offered to let the organization see footage disputing Hyatt’s account of the story, Dean said.

Sgt. Eric Buschow told KTLA that as of Sunday, the Sheriff’s Office had no plans to release any of the video or audio mentioned in the Dean’s statement.

The  statement said law enforcement officials needed to maintain confidentiality of recordings despite false allegations.

“We must often ‘take it on the chin’ until the facts can be heard and seen in a court, under the direction of the judge,” Dean said.