Muslim scarf arrest prompts sensitivity training

Muslim Headscarf Arrest
Lisa Valentine, left, was arrested after refusing to remove her head scarf before attending a court hearing.John Amis / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

City court workers in an Atlanta suburb will undergo sensitivity training and post courtroom dress code signs after police arrested a Muslim woman for refusing to remove her headscarf before attending a hearing.

A judge ordered Lisa Valentine, 40, to serve 10 days in jail for contempt of court after the Dec. 16 incident. She was released in less than a day.

Muslim rights activists have asked the Department of Justice to investigate the incident that triggered a protest in Douglasville, a city of about 20,000 people on Atlanta's suburban outskirts.

Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said Wednesday the training doesn't address the problem.

"We can deal with whether people knew about policies or whether they handled things correctly, but the bottom line is, can a Muslim woman walk into this courtroom wearing religious attire?" he said.

In a news release this week, the city police department acknowledged that while courtroom rules restrict headgear, Municipal Court Judge Keith Rollins has made accommodations for religious reasons, such as hearing cases outside the courtroom.

Officials admonished the officer who detained Valentine for not "seeking an accommodation that would preserve the spirit of the law." It's unclear whether the officer was punished.

Chief Joe Whisenant characterized the incident as a miscommunication.

"It's not our intent to embarrass anybody and we're taking all steps we think are reasonable to make sure this doesn't happen again," Whisenant said.

All police officers and some city employees who work with the court will be trained on court restrictions and special accommodations, and will post courtroom decorum rules, police said. Rollins also is expected to undergo the training, said Gary Sparks, deputy police chief of administration.

Lawsuit likely
Akil Secret, an attorney representing Valentine, said a lawsuit is likely.

Meanwhile, police dispute details of the incident.

Valentine said she was accompanying her nephew to a traffic citation hearing when officials stopped her at the metal detector and told her she couldn't enter the courtroom with the headscarf, known as a hijab.

Valentine said she objected and turned to leave, but officers stopped her.

She later was brought before Rollins, who ordered her held for contempt of court.

Rollins did not return a call from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

But a department news release says Valentine argued with authorities, called the judge racist and repeated expletives until an officer grabbed her wrist.

Authorities say Rollins found her in contempt for fighting with one of the officers, not for wearing a scarf. However, police released Valentine after Whisenant determined there had not been a fight.

Last year, a judge in Valdosta in southern Georgia barred a Muslim woman from entering a courtroom because she would not remove her headscarf.