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Muslim US official illegally 'forced to remove hijab' in police custody: CAIR

CAIR is filing a lawsuit on behalf of Abrar Omeish [Twitter]

Date of publication: 12 January, 2021

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A Muslim elected official is filing a lawsuit in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia after she was forced to remove her hijab in police custody - which is illegal.
An elected Muslim official in the state of Virginia plans to file a lawsuit with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) against Fairfax County police after she was allegedly forced to remove her hijab at the station.

Abrar Omeish, a Fairfax County elected official, said she was pepper sprayed by a police officer after he pulled her over for turning right at a red light.

After she was taken into custody, Abrar was forced to remove her hijab (Islamic head scarf) and photographed, she added.

This would be in violation of federal law.

The civil rights and advocacy organisation CAIR has taken on her case. They said they will take on the department for alleged police brutality and also demand reforms through the Fight for Five Coalition.

Omeish is the leader of the "Fight for Five" coalition, working on local and state reforms.

The incident occurred on 5 March 2019, and at the time Omeish had been running for a Northern Virginia school board seat.

She revealed that she had been travelling between campaign events when she was stopped by a police officer.

In May, two months after the incident, she pleaded no contest to failing to exhibit her driver's licence, and to failing to stop before turning right on a red traffic light, according to court records at the time.

"It makes no logical sense to me that, within three minutes, an officer would have to pull mace and that it would escalate and devolve into everything it was that night, over a minor traffic violation," Omeish told The Washington Post at the time.

A Fairfax County police spokesperson said Omeish had a dozen times refused to provide identification, and that the officer had chosen to use pepper spray because she had "actively resisted arrest".

However, Omeish contested the claims made by the officer, identified in police papers as JW Patrick, and said she had told the officer she would give him her licence but was then pepper-sprayed.

Omeish recorded part of the incident on her phone.

"What they took as refusal to give my license was, essentially, me delaying it by asking questions."

She said she was dragged out of the car, where she hit her head. Once outside the car, she shouted: "A cop is being brutal! Help me!"

Speaking of being photographed without her hijab, Omeish recalled: "I was sobbing at that point."

"This is actually my dignity. This is such a big deal."

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