LOS ANGELES (AP) – A Muslim woman arrested for riding a commuter train without a valid ticket has filed a federal lawsuit, claiming her religious freedom was violated when she was forced to remove her headscarf when she was taken to jail.
Jameelah Medina also said she was intimidated by a deputy who accused her of being a terrorist and called Islam an ”evil” religion, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
The suit names the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and Deputy Craig Roberts of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
A message left with the San Bernardino sheriff’s officials after business hours Wednesday was not returned.
Los Angeles sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Bill Brauberger said he hadn’t seen the suit and couldn’t comment. Brauberger couldn’t immediately say if Roberts was still part of the department. Attempts to find a home listing for Roberts were unsuccessful.
Medina, 29, a Ph. D student at Claremont Graduate University, was riding a commuter train from San Bernardino to the California State University, Los Angeles station on Dec. 7, 2005 when two officers asked to see her ticket, according to the suit.
”We don’t dispute the basis of the arrest,” said Medina’s lawyer, Hector Villagra. ”The issue is how she was treated. She wants to make sure no one else goes through what she went through.”
After determining her ticket was invalid, the officers told her to get off at the next station, where a deputy would be waiting for her.
Roberts handcuffed Medina, put her in the back of a police car and began driving her to a jail. During the ride, Roberts berated Medina and Islam, according to the suit.
Roberts ”accused Medina of being a terrorist and supporting terrorism. He stated that Muslims are evil … and that the United States was in Iraq at God’s direction to squash evil,” read the suit.
At the West Valley Detention Center in San Bernardino, Medina was forced to remove her headscarf despite several attempts to explain to a female deputy why she wore it, the suit said.
Many Muslim women wear a head covering, also known as the hijab, as part of their faith, believing their hair should not be visible to men outside the family.
After several hours, Medina was released without being charged or fined, her lawyer said.
”Two or three officers, including Defendant Roberts, saw her exposed without her headscarf during the course of that day,” according to the suit.
The suit seeks unspecified damages and attorney fees.
Villagra said the federal prison system allows female Muslim inmates to wear the headscarf while in custody.
”If federal prisons can do that, there is no reason that San Bernardino sheriff’s can’t also,” he said.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his organization has increasingly dealt the issue.
In September, a Muslim woman sued the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, claiming deputies violated her religious rights when she was forced to remove her headscarf.
Authorities often see women with their heads covered the same way ”as a male’s choice to wear a baseball cap,” Ayloush said. ”This is not the case. For Muslim woman who wear the hijab, it’s their total belief that this is a religion requirement.”