A 20-year-old transgender woman who alleges that prison authorities ignored her screams for help as she was raped by a fellow inmate last year is suing officials at the Orleans Justice Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The unnamed plaintiff was arrested last September, The Associated Press reports, after failing to appear in court to face a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace. She was then transferred to a cell at the Orleans Justice Center where another inmate, McArthur Mackey, Jr., allegedly raped her on September 21, 2015. In June this year, Mackey plead guilty to aggravated battery and misdemeanor sexual battery in relation to the attack–he was sentenced to 12 years in prison on those counts.
"At all times during the rape, Plaintiff repeatedly screamed for help, but no deputy ever came to the cell to investigate," the lawsuit, filed on Monday, alleges, according to the news agency.
According to the suit, the AP writes, a guard let prisoners who were being transferred to the facility choose their own cells. The plaintiff chose an empty one, but soon after the guard added a male inmate: Mackey.
She filed the lawsuit against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, a jail warden and a deputy, alleging that the prison's failure to house transgender inmates according to their gender identity and not their gender at birth puts them at risk, and that prison staff are not properly trained to work with transgender people.
The New Orleans Advocate reports that the guard charged with monitoring the section of the facility where the rape allegedly took place was absent for at least an hour, and that the plaintiff also tried to call for help through an intercom four times before guards responded:
The lawsuit claims that a guard identified as "Deputy Sanders" had been assigned to monitor the A-2 tier that night from a desk "where he would have easily heard" the transgender inmate's scream. However, the lawsuit says, Sanders "was not at his post at the time of the attack and … was absent from his post for over one hour."
"The desk or monitoring booth inside the tier was not being staffed whatsoever," the transgender woman's attorney, Samuel Fuller, said in a telephone interview.
The lawsuit follows similar cases in recent years in which transgender prisoners have sued prison authorities after facing alleged assault and discrimination while incarcerated. In January of last year, LeslieAnn Manning, a transgender woman in New York, sued officials at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in upstate New York after she was allegedly raped in prison. A month later, another trans woman sued the Georgia Department of Corrections, alleging that she was denied medical care because she's transgender.
Transgender people in America are more likely to be incarcerated: according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 16% of trans adults have been in prison or jail, compared to 2.7% of all adults nationally.
And trans people generally have a vastly difference experience with law enforcement than cisgender people: 80% of trans people who reported crimes to police told the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects in 2015 that they had faced discrimination or indifference from police.
Cases like this in Louisiana come more than two decades after another young trans woman, Dee Farmer, sued Indiana prison officials in 1991 after being held in a men's facility where she was raped. That case went before the Supreme Court of the United States, who ruled that Farmer's right to protection against "cruel and unusual punishment" were violated by prison officers.
Federally, the Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed in 2003 and added specific protections for trans people in prisons in 2012, including prisons that receive federal funding. A ruling in Maryland last September reaffirmed those protections in a case brought against the Patuxent Institution, a high security prison where trans inmate Sandy Brown said she was harassed and held in solitary confinement because she is transgender. The judge in that case ruled that the facility had violated Brown's rights under the PREA, setting a precedent for upholding trans peoples' rights in prison.
The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office has been under scrutiny for the past few years for conditions at the parish jail. In June, under pressure from the Justice Department, Gusman announced that he would relinquish control of the jail to a federally approved jail compliance monitor. The sheriff's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.