U.S. District Court Rules in Favor of HPD in “Beard” Lawsuit

September 10, 2009 - On September 3, 2009, Federal Judge Lee Rosenthal in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled in favor of the City of Houston and the Houston Police Department in a case the public has come to know as the “Beard Lawsuit.”

After considering all of the facts and evidence presented, U. S. District Judge Rosenthal determined there was no violation of state, federal or constitutional rights and ruled the case should be dismissed with prejudice because the plaintiffs offered only conclusory allegations and unsubstantiated assertions.

The mask the Houston Police Department uses was found to be not only safe for the use it was intended for, but also was found to have been utilized by national civil defenders and law enforcement agencies nationwide. The masks are designed to be used by officers to put on when they respond to a scene where they may be needed, such as when responding to a chemical, biological, and/or neurological (CBN) attack.

The Houston Police Department chose the mask because it was easy to use, versatile, cost effective and compatible with the use of other police equipment, and because it would not impede mobility or prevent the public from identifying a uniformed police officer as such. Escape hood gas masks the plaintiffs wanted the department to use were found to be bulkier and more difficult to don and can interfere with the use of other police equipment. More importantly, the escape hood gas masks provide a more limited duration of protection than the masks the Houston Police Department purchased, which makes the escape hood style gas masks inappropriate for use by first responders.

The court accepted evidence from the Houston Police Department, the manufacturer of the masks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) that a police officer with facial hair (i.e. beard) cannot safely wear the masks. Therefore, any police officer with a skin condition that temporarily or permanently prevents shaving will not be allowed to work in certain uniform assignments like SWAT, Special Response Group, Crime Scene Unit and/or any “call for service” assignment in the department.

Chief Hurtt said he is “very grateful Judge Rosenthal ruled in the police department’s favor” and added, “her decision will enable the Houston Police Department to continue to equip officers so they can safely do their jobs of protecting the public at all times.”



For additional information, please contact the HPD Public Affairs Division at 713-308-3200 .

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