On Thursday, May 28, the Arab-American Civil Rights League held a press conference regarding a federal complaint filed by a Muslim American woman against the Oceana County Sheriff’s Department, for forcing her to remove her hijab when she was falsely arrested.
34-year-old Fatme Dakroub, a Dearborn Heights resident, was vacationing at the Lake Michigan Sand Dunes with her children and other relatives on May 17 when a sheriff’s deputy pulled her over while she was driving a rented vehicle. The family was located in a parking lot designated for tourists.
The officer claimed she was speeding and questioned her UAE driver’s license. Dakroub had often traveled back and forth between the UAE and Michigan in recent years. Her Michigan driver’s license had expired, but under state law, she was still able to operate a vehicle with a UAE driver’s license. She had rented the vehicle in Oceana County, using that same license.
A deputy questioned a ticket Dakroub had received in the county in 2011, claiming it was unpaid. She told the officer that she had paid the ticket years ago.
The deputy arrested Dakroub while her daughter, niece and cousin, ages 13-15, were in the rented vehicle. Dakroub said she felt panicked because she didn’t want to leave the children behind.
One of the children contacted Dakroub’s brother, who was also on vacation with the family, but separated from them for a few hours.
During the arrest process, officers also contacted the immigration department, despite the fact that Dakroub is a U.S. citizen.
When Dakroub was taken in for booking, she was asked to remove her hijab while three male officers were present. She objected at first and asked for a female officer to assist her. She was told by the officers that she had to comply under the law.
A tearful Dakroub told reporters that the incident has scarred her and her family. She described the police officers as cruel and insensitive to her religious requests.
“It felt really insulting and humiliating,” Dakroub said. “You feel so violated and you can’t do anything. I was scared that if I opposed what they were asking me, then something bad might happen, like what we’ve seen on TV. They might do something and then say that I resisted. That was the worst experience ever of my life.”
After Dakroub removed her scarf, the police officers told her she would not be able to put it back on. She was not allowed to place a phone call until three hours after her arrest and was placed in a cell where other inmates were able to look at her.
When she asked to use the bathroom, officers said she could use a toilet in an open bathroom area that was visible to all the other inmates.
Dakroub.“I don’t understand why they had to be so rude and mean,” Dakroub said. “I was being so polite with them and just trying to make them understand how uncomfortable I am.”
The ACRL said Dakroub’s constitutionally protected rights to religious freedom were violated.
Nabih Ayad, the executive director of the ACRL, and an attorney, said that several cases are going through the court system where law enforcement officials are arguing that a Muslim woman should remove her hijab due to public safety concerns.
“From the law enforcement belief, I suspect they tell you it’s an issue of public safety to check whether there is something hidden in the hijab,” Ayad said. “But what we in the civil rights community believe is that, for instance, there could be a female called upon to have the hijab removed and take those necessary steps.”
Ayad added that if a police department does not have a female on duty, then officers should consider using gloves and limiting the Muslim woman’s exposure to other men. He argued that after a thorough inspection, an arrested Muslim woman should have a right to put her scarf back on.
In Dakroub’s case, she was placed in a holding cell without her scarf despite her requests to put it back on. Other inmates subjected her to verbal harassment for at least four hours.
“It’s not necessary for the individual to be victimized in this fashion,” Ayad added. “She was subjected to humiliation, isolation and harassment.”
He also said that for hours male inmates tried making passes at Dakroub.
“You can only suspect the embarrassment and humiliation this individual had to go through,” he said. “It’s bad enough to be falsely arrested, but then to have her first amendment rights violated is a flagrant disrespect and is an abuse of power with law enforcement.”
ACRL Field Director Samia Hamid said that police officers should receive proper training in interacting with multi-cultural communities, especially in an area such as Oceana County, a popular tourist destination.
“We are asking for more sensitivity, more education and more awareness for all their officers,” Hamid said.
On Thursday, the ACRL sent a federal complaint to the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Michigan. The complaint asks for a federal judge to rule that the Oceana County Sherriff’s Department’s practices be deemed unconstitutional under the first amendment.
“We are asking a federal judge today to take action and to stop this continuous harassment and intimidation and set some policy across the line as to how to deal with individuals with their first amendment rights,” Ayad added.
Dakroub was released from the Oceana County Jail on $150 bail. She is asking for compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at a trail.