At-large Fairfax County School Board candidate Abrar Omeish revealed Sunday that she was arrested by Fairfax County Police earlier this year after a routine traffic stop turned into a confrontation that led to her being pepper-sprayed.
Omeish wrote about the March 5 incident on the politics website BlueVirginia.com, saying that police needlessly escalated the incident and that her rights were violated when she was forced to remove her headscarf at the county jail. The force of the arrest left Omeish “scratched, bruised, concussed, utterly humiliated, and physically violated,” she said.
“This spring, I had a very traumatic personal encounter that shook me to my core and reminded me even more why I’m doing this,” Abrar said in her post on Blue Virginia. “I was pepper-sprayed, dragged out of my car, and arrested. My phone, with which I had attempted to film, was taken from me. Police backup arrived and four officers came to restrain my body against their car.”
Omeish said the incident began when she was pulled over after police said she made a right-hand turn on red without coming to a complete stop. Omeish said she began asking questions of the officer and did not initially give the officer her driver’s license. That set off a chain of events that led to her being pepper-sprayed and forcibly removed from the vehicle, Omeish said.
Police spokeswoman Emile Voss said that Omeish was pulled over in the 4000 block of Gallows Road. She confirmed that pepper spray was used after Omeish “actively resisted arrest.”
“[Omeish] was asked to provide operator identification over a dozen times by our officer,” Voss said.
Voss said that an administrative investigation of the incident is currently underway, which is standard protocol in use-of-force cases. The FCPD’s internal affairs bureau is leading the investigation.
There is in-car camera footage of the arrest, but Voss said it would not be released before the administrative investigation is concluded. Chief Edwin Roessler has also asked for an investigation by the county’s Independent Police Auditor.
The arresting officer in the case remains on full duty, Voss said.
In her statement, Omeish said she told the officer “multiple times” she would show him her license. She said she feared for her safety as the officer held the pepper spray to her face and allegedly yelled “get out of the car” repeatedly.
“My mind was racing with worst case scenarios and the many police videos where routine traffic stops result in deadly encounters,” Omeish wrote.
Omeish was taken to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center after the arrest. She said deputies there forced her remove her hijab before being photographed, something Omeish said was unnecessary and “an extremely humiliating experience” due to her faith.
“This treatment by the Sheriff’s office violated my civil rights, was gratuitous, and, as I have come to understand, is contrary to custom in many jails,” Omeish wrote. “I know Sheriff Kincaid personally and do not doubt she stands for higher ideals.”
A spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office said they would not comment on Omeish’s statements on Blue Virginia regarding her treatment by deputies. However the spokeswoman said that Sheriff’s deputies followed the departments procedures when processing Omeish at the jail.
“The only person who could see Ms. Omeish as she was being photographed was the female Sheriff’s deputy who took the photos,” said Andrea Ceisler, public information officer for the Sheriff’s office. “The deputy took the first photos of Ms. Omeish without her religious head covering — face forward, left profile, right profile — and then with her religious head covering — face forward only. We allowed Ms. Omeish to keep her own religious head covering, rather than issue her a jail head covering, because she was not being booked into the Adult Detention Center.”
Ultimately Omeish was charged obstruction of justice/resisting arrest, a class 1 misdemeanor. She was also given a traffic citation for not coming to a stop before making a right turn on a red light, and was released on her own recognizance.
Court records indicate that Omeish hired attorney Muhammad Elsayed of Greenspun Shapiro PC. The obstruction charge was later reduced by prosecutors to failure to carry/exhibit a driver’s license. At a May 15 hearing on the case, Omeish was fined $100 for that infraction, and $100 for the red light infraction.
As part of an agreement with the prosecution, the charges will be expunged from Omeish’s record, she said.
Omeish was endorsed May 21 by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee for one of three at-large school board seats up for grabs this fall. Along with fellow newcomer Rachna Sizemore Heizer and incumbent Karen Keys-Gamarra, Omeish was able to beat longtime school board member Ilryong Moon in the school board race’s equivalent to a primary.
Omeish cited the ongoing legal proceedings as the reason for not revealing the arrest earlier in the campaign.
“With the chaos of campaigning leading up to the endorsement and with the favorable conclusion of my case only very recently, I am now able to process and share this information,” Omeish wrote.
Omeish, 24, attended FCPS schools growing up and graduated from Robinson High School in 2013. She would be the youngest member of the school board if elected.
In her statement, Omeish said she intends to use the incident as motivation to push for equity in county schools and beyond.
“I remind everyone that a “submit or be punished” logic in the engagement of law enforcement with citizens damages our communities,” Omeish wrote. “I hope for better. I remain baffled by the officer’s aggression and refusal to de-escalate although I did not explicitly refuse and posed no threat to anyone involved. It amazes me that such a set of events could happen to a Muslim woman in Fairfax County.”
This story was updated in include comment from the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office. It was also clarified to note that the initial obstruction of justice charge was dropped before the May 15 hearing.