A Muslim woman sued the Chicago Police Department in federal court Thursday, alleging that officers violated her civil rights when they ripped off her hijab, falsely arrested her, and made her strip naked at a police station.
Itemid Al-Matar said she was at the State/Lake Street Loop Station heading home last July 4, during Ramadan, when she saw a group of police officers pointing at her, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Illinois’ Northern District.
Al-Matar continued up the stairs, walking toward the train, when several officers allegedly grabbed her and threw her down on the stair landing, the lawsuit said. The officers tore off her hijab and her niqab, a face veil that leaves the area around the eyes clear, her lawsuit alleges.
In an effort to “cover up their unlawful use of force,” police then arrested Al-Matar without probable cause, the suit alleges. At the police station, Al-Matar was also allegedly strip searched, according to the suit.
The lawsuit claims that Al-Matar’s articles of clothing, worn for religious purposes, were the driving force behind the officers’ alleged actions.
Citing pending litigation, Officer Laura Amezaga, a Chicago Police Department spokeswoman, told NBC News that the department had no comment. A voicemail left Friday with Chicago’s law department, which handles lawsuits against the city, was not immediately returned.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil liberties and advocacy nonprofit that co-filed the suit, said in a statement that Al-Matar had been charged with reckless misconduct and resisting arrest in connection with the incident. Her lawsuit said she attended court numerous times and was found not-guilty at trial.
"This unprovoked violence and unlawful behavior by members of [the] Chicago Police Department comes at a time of both heightened Islamophobia and a continued history of institutionalized police violence and malicious prosecution based on race, religion, or other identity-based factors," Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR-Chicago, said in a statement.
Al-Matar’s lawsuit alleges the officers violated her constitutional rights, including her freedom of religious expression and freedom against unreasonable and unlawful search. It also accuses the City of Chicago of failing to monitor, supervise, and train its officers.
Al-Matar is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys’ fees and costs.