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Muslim woman files lawsuit after Kentucky jail allegedly made her remove her hijab

Several Warren County officials are facing a federal lawsuit from a Muslim woman who was previously held at the Warren County Regional Jail after they required the woman to remove her religious headwear and garments, photograph her without them, and live-stream an “unnecessary full body strip search,” according to the woman’s suit.

The Warren County Muslim woman, identified in court documents as “Jane Doe,” claims these officials violated her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Constitutional Rights, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and her religious freedoms as guaranteed in the state’s Constitution. She is being represented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations Legal Defense Fund.

Warren County Judge-Executive Doug Gorman, Jailer Stephen Harmon, Deputy Jailer Brook Lindsey Harp, Officer Benjamin Carroll, and two other unidentified officers are listed as defendants in the suit, according to court documents.

The Jane Doe is seeking an injunction ordering the jail to implement a policy change that would prohibit employees from taking booking photographs of Muslim women without their hijab. She is also requesting they destroy her booking photo, and all security footage without her hijab.

Gorman was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon. He began as the top official in Warren County in January 2023. Jailer Stephen Harmon declined to comment on pending litigation. Their attorney, Thomas Kerrick, was not immediately available for comment.

Ronnie Ward, public information officer for the Bowling Green Police Department, said he was not immediately aware of the suit, but would be unable to comment on pending litigation.

On April 6, officers with the Bowling Green Police Department arrested the woman at her residence after they responded to a call. She was wearing her hijab and abaya, a long-sleeved, full-length dress, according to the lawsuit.

Immediately after being placed in the cruiser, the woman began to question officers about the jail’s policy for allowing her religious garments, according to the lawsuit. She received no response from Carroll, the lawsuit says. She repeatedly expressed concerns about her religious beliefs and the jail’s attire policy.

Upon arrival to the jail and during the booking process, Harp asked if the woman would like an iftar tray — a meal provided for Muslim detainees to eat after sunset during Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset. She agreed.

Officers allegedly live-stream victim’s strip search

Once officers started searching the woman at the jail, they told her they would need to do a “more thorough” search of her person, and would require her to remove her clothes in a private room at the jail. The woman agreed, and was permitted to put her hijab back on as well as a uniform with short sleeves. She was later given a long-sleeve thermal shirt to accommodate her religious attire requirements.

While sitting on a metal bench, she realized there was a TV screen above the room where she had been strip searched, in full view of both male and female inmates to see.

“Mrs. Doe felt mortified, degraded, violated, and humiliated,” the lawsuit states. “She panicked as she realized that everyone in the hallway and lobby saw her fully nude and being strip searched, which is considered a severe violation of her sincerely-held religious beliefs that require her to wear clothes that cover her body in front of strange men and women.”

The lawsuit alleges the officer who conducted the search was aware of the live-stream, and did not make any efforts to protect the privacy of the woman. The lawsuit alleges the defendants acted in concert to violate the victim’s religious beliefs.

Religious violations ‘memorialized’ in booking photograph

Officers insisted the woman remove her hijab for them to take her booking photo, according to the lawsuit. She allegedly protested and said wearing her hijab was a religious requirement and constitutional right. After tearful pleas to officers to keep on her head covering, officers forced her to remove the hijab in front of male employees and inmates, telling her it was policy, the lawsuit says.

“Appearing in public without hijab or being photographed without wearing hijab and having that photo available to the public is a serious breach of Mrs. Doe’s faith and a deeply humiliating and defiling experience in conflict with her sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The photo was later uploaded to the JailTracker website, and is still publicly available, which continues to cause the complainant emotional anxiety, the lawsuit says

By doing this, “defendants memorialized in a permanent way the violation of Mrs. Doe’s religious rights in a manner that continuously perpetuates the violations that occurred that night,” the lawsuit says.

She was permitted to put her hijab back on after she was placed in a cell.