Rabbi forced to take off yarmulke in jail: ‘In their hands you are a nobody’

He filed a civil rights lawsuit against Broward Sheriff’s Office

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Rabbi Beryl Zweibel calls it “nonsense” that the Broward Sheriff’s Office cited security as a reason he was forced to take off his yarmulke when booked into jail last year.

“What does a yarmulke have to do with security?” asked Zweibel, who has filed a civil rights lawsuit against BSO.

Bodyworn camera footage from a Broward deputy captures the moments Zweibel was booked in April.

“The yarmulke is going to have to go in here as well, sir,” a deputy told him.

“A yarmulke is something that has to be on the head,” Zweibel said of his religious head covering.

“I understand,” the deputy responded. “Unfortunately, in here they are not going to allow you to.”

Rabbi Beryl Zwibel said Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies violated his civil rights twice when they forced him to remove his yarmulke as they booked him into the main jail.

Zweibel had been arrested for failing to appear in court on a traffic citation. He said he never got the notice.

While he complied by putting his yarmulke in a bag, Zweibel said his civil rights were violated. It happened again when he was booked in October for the same offense, he said.

Orthodox Jews must wear a head covering when they eat and pray.

BSO points out their policy that in part says: “All head coverings (hats, scarves, stocking caps, etc.) must be removed for security screening purposes.”

In Zweibel’s case, he said he was forced to not wear a yarmulke for his 12 hours behind bars.

“If BSO doesn’t have a concern about a cloth mask covering your face, which is actually bigger than the yarmulke my client was wearing, then it certainly doesn’t have a security question about the safety of a yarmulke,” said Kristen Montgomery, an attorney representing Zweibel.

The sheriff’s office policy also says: “Inmates will be allowed to wear approved liturgical apparel in their cell, dayroom, and to and from religious services.”

Zweibel said the bodycam video shows otherwise.

“Once you are in their hands, you are a nobody,” he said. “You have nothing.”

Added Montgomery: “You’re fundamentally disregarding one’s religious expression, and that’s what happened in this case.”

About the Author:

Reporter Rosh Lowe has been covering news for nearly two decades in South Florida. He joined Local 10 in 2021.