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Settlement reached after Muslim woman says Ventura County deputies forcibly removed her hijab

Settlement reached after Muslim woman says Ventura County deputies forcibly removed her hijab
Jennifer Hyatt claims in a federal lawsuit that Ventura County sheriff's deputies removed her hijab and refused to give her an alternate form of cover when they arrested her last year. A settlement has been reached. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Settlement terms have been reached in a federal lawsuit filed against the Ventura County Sheriff's Office in May after deputies removed a Muslim woman’s head scarf while she was in custody.

Ventura County and the Sheriff’s Office reached a $75,000 settlement with Jennifer Hyatt, the Sheriff’s Office announced Monday. The settlement also includes a new policy in the written manual for the Sheriff’s Office that accommodates religious head coverings.

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The settlement, which is pending signatures from all parties, was reached in order “to save taxpayers the expense of further litigation, including exposure to attorneys’ fees,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“The County and Sheriff’s Office believe this settlement reflects a fair outcome for both sides and is a good result for the citizens of Ventura County,” authorities said in a statement.

Hyatt, a 44-year-old registered nurse from Newbury Park, previously stated that a deputy snatched her hijab head covering and refused to give it back or provide her an alternate form of cover when she was detained for several hours on New Year’s Day in 2017.

In the Islamic faith, some observant women follow an interpretation of the Koran that requires them to cover their heads and much of their bodies for the sake of modesty and dignity.

When Hyatt protested that she could not be in the presence of men without her hijab because she is a practicing Muslim, a deputy replied, “Not in here, you’re not,” according to the suit.

“I was spoken to like I was trash and deserved everything that was happening to me while in custody,” Hyatt said in a statement issued in May by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “My hijab was yanked off my head in front of many men despite my continued requests to wear it. I felt naked and humiliated the entire duration of my custody.”

However, in the release announcing the settlement, the Sheriff’s Office disputed Hyatt’s characterization of her treatment.

“Video and audio footage from the jail’s camera system show that her hijab was not ‘violently yanked’ from her head and she was not treated poorly or intentionally shamed by deputies due to her religious beliefs,” authorities said.

The Sheriff’s Office acknowledged that because the hijab was for religious purposes, Hyatt should have been offered an accommodation, “such as an alternative form of head covering.”

Following Hyatt’s detention, and before she filed her lawsuit, the Sheriff’s Office made paper hijabs available in the jail to improve existing policies and practices regarding religious accommodations, according to the agency.

Marwa Rifahie, an attorney with CAIR in Los Angeles, said Hyatt was arrested after a dispute with her husband in Thousand Oaks.

An off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy noticed the two arguing and separated them before calling local authorities, Rifahie said. But when Ventura County deputies arrived, they ignored Hyatt’s complaints of injuries and arrested her on suspicion of domestic battery, according to Rifahie.

“We are pleased that we hopefully have been able to come to a resolution that not only benefits our client, but would provide protection for other Muslims detained in Ventura County,” Rifahie said in a statement. “This policy change made in Ventura County joins others throughout Southern California municipalities that have adopted policies protecting the right to wear religious head coverings while in custody.”

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