CAIR alleges Ferndale police forced Muslim woman to remove hijab for booking photo

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

A Muslim woman and an advocacy group Wednesday called on the city of Ferndale to address allegations that police removed the woman’s Islamic headscarf to take a booking photo.

Amy Doukoure, staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan Chapter, which is representing the woman, said the group is filing a notice of claim against the city. 

"We're imploring the city of Ferndale ... to take our claim seriously and open channels of dialogue with us so we can ensure Muslim women who find themselves engaged with police officers in the boundaries of the city are sure to have their constitutional rights in place," she said. 

Doukoure said if city officials don't act, the group will sue.

She made the remarks during a Wednesday news conference at the offices of the advocacy group's offices in Canton Township. She was joined by Dawud Walid, the group's executive director, and Helena Bowe, the woman who made the claim against the Ferndale police.

"We're appealing to the city of Ferndale to answer this claim, so we can make things right without going through litigation," Walid said.

He said the group's position is to not file lawsuits frivolously against police departments.

"We, as an organization, are not anti-police," Walid said. "We're pro-police-accountability."

In a statement Wednesday, city officials said: "The Ferndale Police Department maintains that traffic stop and search were conducted ethically and appropriately. Ms. Bowe was stopped on 8 Mile Rd. — which, as a shared road between the Cities of Ferndale and Detroit, is routinely patrolled by both police departments — for having a fraudulent license plate."

Bowe, who is African American, said she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the June 21 encounter with police. Bowe is also founder and CEO of Miss Muslimah USA, a national pageant for Muslim women.

"This whole thing has left me traumatized and feeling numb and detached," she said as she spoke at the news conference, choking back sobs at one point. "Even though it's over, I still see myself going through it over and over again."

Bowe was traveling on Eight Mile through Detroit when she was stopped by Ferndale officers, Doukoure said. Officers told Bowe she had an expired license plate tab, according to the lawyer. She said Bowe's tab was not expired and she produced valid registration and insurance for the officers.

Police asked Bowe if she had any weapons on her and she told them she had an electric stun gun in her purse, according to Doukoure. Police arrested Bowe because she had the weapon, she said.

In their statement Wednesday, Ferndale officials said "officers discovered that she had a stun gun — a weapon that is illegal in Michigan."

In Michigan, a civilian who carries a stun gun must have a valid license to carry a concealed pistol.

As she was being processed by police, a male officer told Bowe she had to remove her headscarf, or hijab, and take a booking photo if she wanted to be released, Doukoure said.

Bowe initially said she couldn't because of her religious beliefs, but acquiesced when a female officer offered to take the picture, Doukoure said. However, a male officer watched the photo being taken through a window.

"The traffic stop and the search of her purse are both problematic because Ferndale officers don't police the city of Detroit," the attorney said. "But even if her arrest was valid, it doesn't negate the civil and constitutional rights she carries with her. You don't lose your rights to religion just because you've been arrested."

Ferndale police Chief Dennis Emmi said his officers "were simply following departmental policy, which includes photographing hair as an important identifying feature. Now, in reviewing the case and circumstances, I see the opportunity for our policies to evolve to better meet the needs of our community.”

The city, said Emmi, would reach out to CAIR to discuss how the department could "show increased sensitivity and better serve citizens of the Muslim faith. Additionally, City Manager Joseph Gacioch has tasked the city’s newly established Racial Equity Action Team with delivering a religious and cultural sensitivity training to the entire City of Ferndale staff."

Gacioch said: “We recognize the need for further knowledge and guidance, we are absolutely open to accepting it and updating our policies and practices, and we look forward to a positive and productive partnership with our friends at the American Islamic Relations Council.”and

CAIR-Michigan has represented women in two similar cases in Metro Detroit. In one of the cases, a 36-year-old woman sued the city of Detroit and the Michigan Department of Corrections in federal court, alleging she was forced to remove her hijab while a booking photo was taken in 2019 at the Detroit Detention Center.

Doukoure said judges have ruled in favor of Muslim women in both cases. She also said a major concern for Muslim women who have their booking photo taken without hijabs is the pictures are available to the public indefinitely.

Resolutions might not be clear-cut, said Larry Dubin, a law professor emeritus at the University of Detroit Mercy.

"The law is not always uniform concerning the legitimacy of legal demands placed upon Muslim women to remove their hijab," he told The Detroit News. "A Muslim woman may object to the removal of her hijab when taking an oath to testify; giving testimony, or having a picture taken for a driver's license.

"In general, this important religious right afforded by the First Amendment should prevail unless outweighed by the importance of the legal procedure at issue. Taking a photograph for a booking purpose may not be significant enough to deny a person the strong religious belief asserted in this case,  but it is ultimately up to the United States Supreme Court to definitely decide this issue."

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.