December 25, 2008 in Nation/World

Scarf arrest prompts worker training

By DIONNE WALKER Associated Press
File Associated Press photo

Lisa Valentine stands with her husband, Omar Hall, at her home in Douglasville, Ga.
(Full-size photo)

ATLANTA – 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 religious 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 west 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.

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

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