90K settlement reached after woman's hijab removed in Santa Clara Co. jail

Dustin Dorsey Image
Tuesday, November 21, 2023
Settlement reached after woman's hijab removed in Santa Clara Co. jail
A settlement was reached between CAIR-SFBA and Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office that allows religious head coverings to be worn at county jails.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- A victory for religious freedoms in Santa Clara County.

Last October, Asia Aden was booked into the Main Jail and forced to remove her hijab while in custody until she was released. It was the second complaint in two years involving the removal of a religious head covering at a Santa Clara County jail.

Now, a settlement was reached between the San Francisco Bay Area Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office to protect ensure it doesn't happen again.

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"We were told last time that there were new policies in place, that training had happened and that we would not have to worry about this happening again," CAIR-SFBA exec. director Zahra Billoo said. "And then it did. The trauma that that experience caused is something that we want to make sure no one else, be it a Muslim, Sikh or otherwise, ever experiences."

In addition to a $90,000 financial settlement for Aden, CAIR-SFBA and the sheriff's office created a policy that will allow people to keep their head covering or be provided one while in custody - including in booking photos.

Law enforcement can still have detainees remove head coverings for safety purposes, like pat and search for mental health concerns, but it would be in a private setting or away from men.

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Sheriff Bob Jonsen said in a statement: "The Sheriff's Office respects all religious faiths, and the office is committed to ensuring safety and security within the jail facilities in a manner that is consistent with protecting the rights and religious expression of those in its custody."

"My hope is that this settlement is a step forward," Billoo said. "It is the county and the sheriff's office demonstrating that they understand that this is not the standard."

"We approached this as an opportunity to educate and not to blame," CAIR-SFBA senior civil rights attorney Jeffrey Wang said. "You can't undo the harm that my client has suffered, but it was really important to my client that this same kind of harm not happen to other people."

This new policy is being implemented now at Santa Clara County jails. In January, Senate Bill 309 will offer similar religious freedom protections at all prisons and jails in California.

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