(WB) Three transgender people allege they suffered abuse at a Miami jail last year after police arrested them during Black Lives Matter protests.
The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund in a letter it sent to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava on Wednesday notes Christian Pallidine, a college student who identifies as a trans man, was attending a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Miami on May 31, 2020, when Miami-Dade police officers arrested him and charged him with violating a county-wide curfew.
Pallidine arrived at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center a short time later, and the letter notes personnel abused him because of his gender identity.
“The staff at TGK subjected Mr. Pallidine to degrading and outrageous treatment because he is transgender,” it reads. “TGK staff forced him to strip and display his genitals in front of a group of officers — part of a series of invasive, pseudo-medical, sexualized procedures conducted on him for no legitimate purpose. TGK staff also belittled Mr. Pallidine, publicized his transgender status to others, asked gratuitous questions about his anatomy, and called him derogatory names.”
The letter, among other things, notes Pallidine underwent an examination that “focused solely on his transgender status” and it “took place in a public area where others could easily see and hear him and the person questioning him.” The letter says the officer who conducted the exam asked him “multiple questions about his genitals and plans for future medical care, such as, ‘Do you want a penis in the future?'”
Pallidine alleges he was forced to take a pregnancy test “because of his genitals” and officers mocked him because of his gender identity. Pallidine also says officers forced him to undergo a strip search and placed him in solitary confinement before his release.
Jae Bucci and Gabriela Amaya Cruz on July 19, 2020, attended a rally and march for Black trans women in downtown Miami. Miami-Dade police officers brought them to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center after they arrested them.
Bucci, who is a teacher and makeup artist, on Wednesday during a virtual press conference that TLDEF, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Harvard LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic organized, said the gender marker on her ID is female and the Miami-Dade Police Department processed her as such. Bucci noted Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center personnel also processed her as female, but she said an officer told her, “Aha, I knew it. That’s what I was looking for” after she disclosed her gender identity.
Bucci said her friends were not able to find her because officers had reclassified her as male. Bucci told reporters that officers placed her with male prisoners and, like Pallidine, forced her to undergo an “illegal strip search in front of several officers.”
“They tugged at my piercings, drawing blood, and forcibly tried to remove my hair, assuming it to be a wig,” said Bucci.
“They forced me to sit with men … I was put in danger,” she added. “I needed protection. I asked to be seated with other women, but the guards were only hyper-focused on my genitals, repeatedly calling me a man.”
Bucci said she was later placed in solitary confinement “for hours with no contact, food, water, leading to a panic attack where I began to self-harm and contemplate suicide.” Bucci said officers also forced her to wear men’s clothing “with my breasts clearly visible.”
Jae Bucci. Photo by Emely Virta.
Amaya Cruz — a barista, artist and activist — said she suffered many of the same abuses that Bucci and Pallidine described once she arrived at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.
Amaya Cruz told reporters the officers did not know whether to place her with female or male inmates once she disclosed her gender identity to them.
She said officers forced her to remove her wig before they took her mugshot.
Amaya Cruz said she objected to male officers patting her down, and they told a female colleague that “he’s saying he’s a woman, but he’s a man. He has a dick still.”
Amaya Cruz said the female officer did her pat-down and allowed her to fill out paperwork in which she disclosed her gender identity. Amaya Cruz said the officer allowed her to sit with other female inmates.
Amaya Cruz was born with ectrodactyly, a rare genetic disorder that limits finger movement, but she was subject to “excessive force” during the pat-down and when guards took her fingerprints.
Amaya Cruz said the female officer who did her pat-down told her to change into a pair of basketball shorts and a white t-shirt before her release.
“I was so uncomfortable and I just complied because my only reaction was I don’t want to be here any longer,” said Amaya Cruz. “At that point I felt uncomfortable, humiliated, my gender was being yelled out the entire night. My gender identity was not being taken seriously in any way.”
Gabriela Amaya Cruz. Photo by Sonya Revell/Southern Poverty Law Center.
TLDEF Staff Attorney Alejandra Caraballo told reporters the “health and safety of our clients were jeopardized by the willful and wanton treatment by the officers at TGK.”
“The current policies followed at TGK are woefully inadequate and are discriminatory on their face, which will inevitably lead towards the targeted harassment of trans people in custody,” added Caraballo.
Harvard LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic Founding Director Alexander Chen also took part in the press conference alongside Arianna Lint, chief executive officer of Arianna’s Center, an organization that serves trans women in South Florida. Tatiana Williams, co-founder and executive director of Transinclusive Group, which also works with trans people in South Florida, also participated.
“The change has to happen, as we all mentioned, structurally,” said Williams. “It has to happen at the top.”
The letter to Levine Cava calls for her office to “reach a resolution” with Pallidine, Bucci and Amaya Cruz without litigation that specifically addresses several points:
1) “Policy and procedure updates to address the issues faced by our clients and other transgender community members.”
2) “Meaningful accountability measures for MDCR [Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department] staff that go well beyond what Internal Affairs currently provides.”
3) “Appropriate discipline for the MDCR staff involved in the inappropriate treatment of our clients.”
4) “Updates to county records concerning our clients and their gender.”
5) “Compensation to our clients as allowed by law; and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs as allowed by law.”
“We have achieved similar results working with officials elsewhere in the country, and are confident we can do the same here,” reads the letter.
Chen echoed this point during the press conference.
“We have every expectation that we will be able to come to an accord with the county that will both do justice to our plaintiffs and protect transgender people in the county going forward,” he said.
Lint, like Chen, noted Levine Cava championed LGBT rights when she was a member of the Miami-Dade County Commission until she succeeded now-Congressman Carlos Giménez last November.
“I am calling on Mayor Levine Cava to continue this support for the transgender community by taking steps to address the mistreatment of transgender individuals in Miami-Dade County jails,” said Lint. “Arianna’s Center is committed to working with Mayor Levine Cava to eradicate prejudice against the transgender community in our prisons, jails, detention centers and through the whole criminal justice system.”
Levine Cava’s office has not returned the Washington Blade’s request for comment.