Ferndale Agrees to Settlement After Police Remove Muslim Woman’s Hijab for Mugshot
(Crystal A. Proxmire, May 29, 2022)
Ferndale, MI – In October 2021 a Muslim woman was pulled over for a traffic stop on 8 Mile Road and subsequently arrested. According to a lawsuit by The Michigan Chapter of Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), the woman was searched by a male officer and had her hijab (Islamic head scarf) forcibly removed for the booking photo.
Those decisions not only cost Helana Bowe her dignity, but they have also cost the City of Ferndale an undisclosed amount of money in a financial settlement over the case.
CAIR-MI released a statement, explaining “that the city of Ferndale and Bowe have reached a full and satisfactory settlement of this matter that involved the city instituting new policies allowing Muslim women to maintain their hijab when a booking photo is taken and prohibiting cross-gender searches in the absence of an emergency as well as a monetary settlement.”
“We are pleased to announce this settlement and believe that the policies that Ferndale has put in place will help protect the religious rights of Muslim women who may find themselves in their custody,” said CAIR-MI Staff Attorney Amy V. Doukoure. “It is important to remember that the Constitution was written to protect those who are most vulnerable, and many of the rights protected by the Bill of Rights were enacted to safeguard our freedoms, specifically during interactions with law enforcement. Religious freedoms remain intact, even when facing arrest or incarceration.”
In October 2021, CAIR-MI filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court on behalf of Bowe alleging that Ferndale had violated her rights under the U.S. Constitution as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
Ferndale Police Community Engagement Officer Jill Mahlmeister told Oakland County Times “Since October, all city departments have undertaken cultural sensitivity trainings facilitated by the Islamic Networks Group (ING). ING, the chosen facilitator was selected by the City’s Racial Equity Action Team. City Manager Joseph Gacioch requested additional education for all city departments following the October incident. Additionally, the Ferndale Police Department immediately reviewed and updated its policies regarding religious head coverings.”
At the October 11, 2021 Ferndale City Council Meeting, City Council directed City staff to begin exploring how best to implement citizen oversight of the police department, and on Dec. 7 council heard an update of where they’re at, and what happens next. The discussion included information on various types of boards and commissions that could have ties to police oversight, with the intent of considering what might work best in Ferndale.
The City of Ferndale had been looking at ways to further equality prior to the incident. In 2020 Ferndale Police earned Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police (MAP) accreditation. This is “a time-proven and systematic process designed to strengthen an agency’s transparency, accountability, and professionalism.” Both the City and Ferndale Schools adopted Anti-Racism policies in 2020 following the death of George Floyd.
Ferndale joined the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) in February 2021. In February the City flew the Pan-African flag as a symbol of anti-racism, and in July Mayor Piana and Councilperson Kat Bruner James hosted a town hall discussion on racial equality. In September, the first Racial Equity Action Team meeting was held with members of the team hailing from multiple departments within the City.
Discussion continues over which boards and commissions might be best for the city. Narrowed down recommendations are expected to come back to council in the coming months. For more on the current boards and commissions, and the options, check out this previous story.
For those who want to know more about police interactions with the Muslim community, CAIR’s national office offers educational booklets, called “A Correctional Institution’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices,” and “A Law Enforcement Official’s Guide to the Muslim Community”