When supervisors complained about his hairstyle in early 1997, 6th District Police Officer Jeffrey Robinson filed an internal complaint with the department, claiming that the dreadlocks honored his Nazarite faith. But he was put on leave after filing the complaint and going public in an article in the Washington City Paper (“Officer Dread,” 4/10/97). Robinson argued in U.S. District Court that the department’s actions violated his freedom of speech. On Tuesday, a District jury awarded Robinson $37,704.80 in damages. Robinson’s attorney, Diane Seltzer, says Robinson’s dreads were never the “fad or extreme hairstyle” the department alleged. “If you carved the word ‘sex’ into your hair, that’s extreme,” she says. “But what Jeff has is religious expression.” Robinson says he may pursue additional legal action but hopes this week’s victory will make life easier for D.C.’s 17 other dreadlocked officers.
Reporting by Jason Cherkis, Laura Lang, Amanda Ripley, Elissa Silverman, and Rebecca Sinderbrand.
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