15:02 GMT31 May 2020
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    Fior Pichardo de Veloz, a lawyer from the Dominican Republic, was arrested in Miami in 2013 and thrown in a men’s prison after medical staff erroneously assumed she was transgender. Now a US federal judge has permitted her lawsuit against those who sent her to the prison to proceed.

    Pichardo's first lawsuit in 2016 against Dr. Fredesvindo Rodriguez-Garcia and nurse Fatu Kamara Harris charged that she had been subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the US Constitution during the affair. That case was thrown out by a federal judge who said the jail staff was protected from being charged over their negligence, the Miami Herald noted.

    However, on November 21, a federal appeals court unanimously ruled in her favor, enabling a trial against Rodriguez-Garcia and Harris to proceed.

    "Every reasonable prison officer and medical personnel would have known that wrongfully misclassifying a biological female as a male inmate and placing that female in the male population of a detention facility was unlawful," Judge Frank Hull of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit wrote in her 27-page opinion, which lays out the details of the case.

    Hull wrote that Harris was "exposed to consistent and repeated information that Mrs. Pichardo was a woman" and had "stubbornly refused" to acknowledge so, while Rodriguez-Garcia "knew that sending a woman to an all-male prison would pose a risk of serious harm to her safety, however, he took no steps to verify Mrs. Pichardo's sex before re-classifying her as male."

    When Pichardo was arrested in Miami in November 2013 due to an outstanding drug warrant, she didn't know what she was in for. When first arrested and placed in jail, everything went as it should: she was listed by the arresting officer as female, processed at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center as a woman, searched by a female officer and given a woman's jumpsuit, the Miami Herald noted. However, once she reported to the medical unit for what was supposed to be a routine checkup due to her high blood pressure, things took a turn for the worse.

    Pichardo, now 55, was questioned for taking hormone pills. The nurse, Harris, immediately assumed this meant Pichardo was transgender, when she was really taking them for symptoms of menopause — transgender women undergoing hormone replacement therapy often take the same estrogen supplements as cisgender (non-trans) women going through menopause.

    Harris told the jailer that sometimes "male inmates take hormone pills to enhance their breasts." She asked Pichardo what her gender was — a baffled Pichardo responded she was a woman.

    No physical exam was ever conducted on Pichardo, yet Harris inexplicably told the jail officer that during the exam "everything fell out," meaning that Pichardo's supposed male genitals had been discovered, the Herald noted.

    Pichardo was sent to the all-male Metro West Detention Center. "Good luck if you're alive tomorrow," an officer told her as she was booked, according to the judge's opinion.

    Placed in a large holding cell with dozens of men, Pichardo was so intimidated by the mockery to which she was subjected that she urinated on herself instead of going to the bathroom.

    According to the Herald, once her relatives rushed to the facility and protested her wrongful placement, a new medical examination was conducted. Although this procedure confirmed Pichardo was female, she was nonetheless subjected to mockery by male officers as she undressed. One officer reportedly took a photo of her. She was then sent back to the correctional center to be processed properly as a woman.

    Changing Rules for Trans Prisoners

    The appeals court's decision to allow Pichardo's case to proceed comes amid changing rules in US prisons regarding transgender prisoners. In May, the US Bureau of Prisons announced that inmates would only be housed according to "biological sex" and not according to gender identity, Reuters reported.

    In other words, all trans women will be housed in men's prisons, and all trans men will be housed in women's prisons. While the Justice Department defends this move as motivated by concern for prisoners' safety, research data shows that placing trans people in the facilities that don't correspond to their gender is extremely dangerous for them, particularly for trans women sent to men's facilities.

    In May, the Independent reported on the case of Lindsay Saunders-Velez, a trans woman who reported repeated harassment and assault at various men's facilities where she'd been housed. Only hours after a judge threw out her case requesting housing according to her gender, she was raped at the Colorado men's prison where she was condemned to stay.

    Sputnik reported in September on the case of Alyssa Victoria Hope, a black trans woman housed in a men's prison facility in Maryland, where she is denied the right to go by her legal, chosen name, among other injustices.

    Indeed, the National Center for Transgender Equality reports that incarcerated transgender people are "five to six times more likely than the general incarcerated population to be sexually assaulted by facility staff, and nine to 10 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by another inmate."

    In addition, 22 percent of respondents to a 2015 study of transgender people who had been incarcerated reported that they had been physically or sexually assaulted by other inmates in the past year, and one in five respondents said they'd been assaulted by facility staff. Further, 11 percent were sexually assaulted by facility staff in the year prior to the survey. The NTCE notes that the rates reported by inmates who weren't transgender were 2.4 percent in prisons and 1.8 percent in jails.


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