Police Made Arrest Based on Suspect’s Dress, Lawsuit Claims
A Muslim woman is suing the Chicago Police Department for unlawful search and other civil rights violations after they mistook her for a terrorist based on her religious dress, according to CBS News. The police officers detained Itemid Al-Matar last year on the Fourth of July as she approached a subway station. She argues that the officers stopped her because she was wearing a hijab or head scarf and face veil. Police officers handled her roughly at the subway station and later strip searched her at the police station. The police officers did not find any evidence that Al-Matar posed a threat, but charged with resisting arrest.
Woman Resembled “Lone Wolf Suicide Bomber” -- Because She Wore a Backpack
Ms. Al-Matar is a Saudi Arabian citizen who began studying English in the United States two years ago. Al-Matar says she was hurrying home to break her Ramadan fast when police stopped her. The Chicago Tribune reports that several officers grabbed her as she approached a CTA stop and ripped off her hijab. A security video that is now publicly available shows three officers holding a woman in a hijab down on a stair landing while two more officers stand by. The police report from the incident indicates that police officers believed Al-Matar was a “lone wolf suicide bomber” because she was holding her backpack and wearing objects that officers believed might have been “incendiary devices,” which turned out to be ankle weights. The complaint accuses the Chicago Police Department of excessive use of force, unlawful search, false arrest, the violation of Al-Matar’s freedom of religious expression, and malicious prosecution.
Fourth Amendment Requires Reasonable Suspicion for Searches
In most cases, a police officer needs one of three things to search or arrest someone: a valid search warrant, a valid arrest warrant, or a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime. In order to stop and search someone, police need a reasonable suspicion that the individual has committed a crime or was in the process of committing a crime. Reasonable suspicion exists when a reasonable person would believe, based on the information available to the officer, that some kind of criminal activity was going on and that more investigation was necessary. To arrest someone, police need probable cause for arrest. Probable cause means that a reasonable person would believe, based on the information available to the police officer, that the suspect has committed a crime or is going to commit a crime. The Illinois Code provides that if an officer stops a person for questioning and then believes that they are in danger of an attack, they may search the person for any weapons.
Police Likely Lacked Reasonable Suspicion to Search Al-Matar
Did the officers in Al-Matar’s case violate her rights when they stopped and searched her? No one is arguing that the police officers in this case had a valid search or arrest warrant for Al-Matar. So the only argument that the search was legal is that the officers had reasonable suspicion when they detained her. Would a reasonable person believe, based on the information available to the officers, that some kind of criminal activity was going on? The evidence that officers argued provided reasonable suspicion included Al-Matar’s holding a backpack, walking briskly and wearing ankle weights. Would a reasonable person take this evidence to mean that a crime was afoot? Probably not. After all, how many people in a busy subway station are carrying backpacks or walking quickly? Without reasonable suspicion, the arrest violates Al-matar’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.
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If you or someone you know has been the victim of police misconduct, you need expert legal help. Get in touch with an experienced civil rights lawyer at Barney & Hourihane in Chicago today to get the justice you deserve.
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