Dearborn Hts. police update hijab policy after suit

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Dearborn Heights Police Department has updated its policy on booking and photographing people who wear religious head covering after a Muslim woman sued over the removal of her hijab while in custody last year.

The policy change went into effect Monday with a U.S. District Court judge’s order, said attorney Amir Makled, who in January filed a lawsuit on behalf of his client, Malak Kazan, seeking the change. Dearborn Heights Police Department Chief Lee Gavin approved the measure, reached after negotiations, according to a joint statement from the city and Kazan’s legal team.

Now, “in instances where a female of the Muslim faith indicates or expresses discomfort, reluctance, or requests an accommodation to the police officer that she does not feel comfortable removing the hijab or burka in front of a male officer, attempts will be made to reach a female officer immediately to stand present while the arrestee/prisoner removes her religious headscarf,” according to the updated policy.

The female officer also “will conduct the removal of any religious garb in an area that is as private as is practical under the circumstances,” allowing for photographs both with the hijab on and off, the document read.

In the lawsuit, Kazan claimed her rights were “stripped at the jailhouse door” during her July 9, 2014, arrest for a traffic misdemeanor. According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, police stopped Kazan for a traffic violation and found the Dearborn Heights resident’s license had been suspended.

While being booked, she was asked to remove her hijab, which the tenets of Islam require for “covering her hair, ears, neck and part of her chest when she is in public and when she is in the presence of men who are not members of her immediate family,” the suit said.

“Ms. Kazan and her attorneys are very pleased with city of Dearborn Heights Mayor Daniel Paletko’s continued approach of progressive fairness to ensure that all of the citizenry of the city of Dearborn Heights has their civil and constitutional rights protected,” the joint statement read. “Similarly, Ms. Kazan and her attorneys state they are confident in Police Chief Lee Gavin’s proactive approach to the protection of the citizens of Dearborn Heights and appreciate the continued professionalism exhibited by the Dearborn Heights Police Department.”

The policy overhaul follows the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Michigan Regional Office announcing late last month a lawsuit filed against the city of Dearborn, its police department and officers for allegedly forcing a Muslim woman to remove her Islamic headscarf.

Dearborn Heights’ measure “could be the model policy” for other communities, Makled said Thursday. “Hopefully this can be reflected in other local municipalities as well.”