After being arrested on minor charges at racial justice demonstrations in Florida, three transgender people endured abuse while in the custody of Miami-Dade County corrections staff.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and its allies filed a lawsuit on behalf of the group, challenging the county over the abuse they endured for being transgender – treatment that is unconstitutional and violates numerous state and federal laws.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Gabriela Amaya Cruz, Christian Pallidine and Ángel Jae Torres Bucci, who were arrested in 2020 on minor charges that were later dropped. During their time in custody at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami, they endured illegal strip searches and were called degrading and humiliating names by corrections staff, including names such as “it” and “hermaphrodite.” Each was also addressed by the wrong gender pronouns.
What’s more, they were physically hurt, forced to remove personal accessories that aligned with their gender, isolated in solitary cells, denied medical treatment and required to wear clothing associated with the wrong gender to be freed from jail. Their treatment violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment and the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unlawful search and seizure, according to the lawsuit.
The county also violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, since the plaintiffs have gender dysphoria, which substantially impairs major life activities, such as reproduction and social functioning, according to the complaint. The county broke numerous other federal and state laws protecting these three people from discrimination and harm, including the Prison Rape Elimination Act and Florida statutes on strip searches.
Bucci, for example, was misgendered and abused by the staff and officers, forced to undergo a humiliating and illegal strip search, and placed in a solitary cell. Officers tried to pull the hair off Bucci’s head, wrongly believing it was a wig.
The complaint seeks damages for the three plaintiffs for injury suffered in custody and a declaration that the county’s actions violated the law. The lawsuit was filed after almost a year of unsuccessful attempts to resolve the plaintiffs’ claims without litigation.
Plaintiffs and their counsel recommended changes to jail policies and practices in a letter seeking a resolution before filing a lawsuit. However, the county never negotiated with the plaintiffs. The recommended changes for transgender people in custody included:
- Housing transgender people where they will be safest during custody and ending discriminatory placement in solitary cells.
- Allowing transgender people to dress according to their identity and not discriminating based on dress.
- Ending the illegal practice of strip-searching people because they are transgender.
- Training staff to understand the limited range of instances where a strip search is allowed by law.
- Providing transgender people access to proper medical care and necessary medications.
- Protecting the confidentiality of a person’s gender and other medical history when in custody.
- Referring to transgender people by their correct names and pronouns.
- Ensuring that someone’s transgender status is not disclosed to anyone without a need to know.
- Requiring that people in custody be treated with respect by all corrections staff, which includes an absolute ban on the use of degrading names.
- Creating meaningful consequences for staff and administrators failing to meet the standard set by such jail policies and practices.