Muslim woman files complaint over HPD frisking

August 22, 2012 4:57:40 PM PDT
A Muslim woman's complaints that she was forced to remove her head scarf when arrested by Houston police has sparked questions about how officers handle searches.

Police say they have specific guidelines when it comes to frisking or searching suspects, but some think it's time to revisit those policies.

"It's a sign for modesty and faith for Muslim women," said Shireen Jasser.

For Muslim women like Jasser choosing to wear a hijab, or head scarf, is decided at an early age.

"I've been wearing my hijab since I was 10 years old," Jasser said.

She only removes her scarf at home and in front of men who are relatives. So to have it forcibly stripped, she says, would be humiliating.

"It's very much the equivalent of somebody taking off my pants or my shirt in public," said Jasser.

But that's what Ilana Alazzeh says happened to her this month after she and others were arrested for protesting with janitors near the Galleria. Alazzeh was taken to a gym where she was frisked by a female officer, and her head scarf removed in front of male officers and other protestors.

"They have to search the prisoner. It's a safety issue for the police officer and it's also a safety issue for the prisoner," said Lt. Patrick Dougherty with HPD.

Lt. Dougherty distinguished between two searches -- in the field and in the jail. The purpose of both is to detect hidden weapons. In the field...

"He has to search all the outer garments. He doesn't have to remove outer garments, he doesn't have to remove the scarf," he said.

But in the jail, officers are tasked with performing a complete property inventory.

"We go through every pocket they have, every garment they have, we remove outer clothing, coats, jackets, scarves," Lt. Dougherty said.

This Sikh worshipper believes Alazzeh's case is one that should invite more cultural education and training for police.

"For a Sikh, a turban is not just part or a symbol of our religion, it's our identity," said Gurpal Chadha, Houston Sikh.

So officers can carry out what's necessary without forfeiting anyone's religious freedoms.

"Law enforcement does need to do their job to make sure that everybody's safe. But it's really important also that they respect people's rights," said Jasser.

Alazzeh filed a complaint with HPD and has hired at attorney.

HPD notes their officers attend cultural sensitivity training and as Houston becomes more diverse, frisking policies could change over time.


Load Comments