Muslim woman sues Ventura County Sheriff's Office over removal of her hijab

VENTURA COUNTY (KABC) -- For Jennifer Hyatt, who is a practicing Muslim, going without a hijab around men who are not related to her is out of the question. She's now suing the Ventura County Sheriff's Office over that very issue.

"I am attempting to be a voice for those afraid to speak and those paralyzed by the fear of retaliation," Hyatt said during a news conference alongside her attorneys and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Hyatt was arrested in January 2017 on suspicion of domestic violence. But the lawsuit she brought forward is over what she claims happened when she was booked and jailed.

"A deputy snatched one piece of my two-piece hijab off my head while male deputies were in the room," she said and added that her requests for a head covering were ignored. "Instead of understanding my request to continue wearing my hijab because I am Muslim, I was told by a deputy 'not in here you're not.'"

Attorneys said they are looking for compensation and changes to the department's policy.

"Our office previously filed a lawsuit against the Long Beach Police Department and the city of Long Beach, where they also had absolutely no policy regarding religious accommodations," said attorney Marwa Rifahie with CAIR, adding the lawsuit resulted in policy reform.

Attorney Erin Darling said the deputies' actions violate Hyatt's constitutional rights.

"The individual officers in taking off her hijab and refusing her request that is itself against the federal statute," he said.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Office told Eyewitness News it does not comment on pending litigation.

We requested its policy on head coverings. The information we received did not address the subject specifically, but under its rules on religious objects, it states, "If a policy restricts the practice of an inmate's religion, then the facility must make a genuine effort to consider alternatives."

According to CAIR, the denial of religious accommodation is among the top four reported anti-Muslim bias incidents in 2017.
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