February 2, 2012 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Md. juvenile authorities seek release of youth charged in transgender beating case

Chrissy Lee Polis was attacked earlier last April.

The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services is taking steps to obtain the early release of a 15-year-old female who pleaded guilty to the April 2011 hate crime beating of transgender woman Chrissy Lee Polis at a McDonald’s restaurant outside Baltimore.

According to Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney John Cox, DJS officials recently informed his office that they planned to petition a juvenile court judge to grant early release for the juvenile. Cox said his office will oppose the early release request at a court proceeding expected to take place later this month.

“We will definitely make it known to the judge that we oppose this,” Cox told the Blade on Thursday.

The juvenile, whose name has been withheld, was 14 at the time police arrested her and then 18-year-old Teonna Brown in connection with the Polis beating case. Both pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and the commission of a hate crime.

The incident attracted international attention after a McDonald’s employee captured the attack on video through his cell phone and posted it online, where it went viral.

The video shows Brown and the juvenile repeatedly punching and kicking Polis in the head and body while dragging her by her hair across the floor of the restaurant. Polis was 22 at the time.

Police and witnesses said the incident started when Polis attempted to use the women’s bathroom at the McDonald’s and the two teens who attacked her denounced her for being a guy dressed as a woman.

Brown, who was charged as an adult, was sentenced to five years in prison and three years of probation, which is to begin at the time her release. The juvenile was sentenced to a juvenile offender facility for an undetermined period of time.

Transgender activists cited the case as an example of the discrimination and violence often experienced by transgender people. They used the incident to build greater support for a transgender non-discrimination bill pending in the Maryland General Assembly.

Jay Cleary, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Juvenile Services, said his agency is barred from discussing specific cases under a state privacy law pertaining to juveniles.

In commenting on cases in general, he said state law and policies for juvenile offenders sentenced to incarceration call for providing them with services and treatment in a “secured facility” for from thirty days to a year depending on their needs and the circumstances surrounding the case.

He said DJS has a staff of experts, including psychiatrists, who evaluate the juveniles to determine whether they are no longer a threat to the community or to themselves and may be ready for release into the community. Once released, Cleary said, they continue to receive treatment and services while in the care of a group home, foster parents, or in the home of their own parents if the experts deem that appropriate.

DJS recommends to a juvenile court judge whether a juvenile offender should be released from a secured facility and a judge makes the decision on whether to accept the recommendation, he said. If the recommendation is contested by prosecutors, a court hearing is held to give the parties an opportunity to argue their respective positions, Cleary said.

Cox said that under Maryland law, DJS operates the state’s juvenile detention and rehabilitation facilities and programs. He said that in most cases where juveniles are sentenced to incarceration under the state juvenile justice system, no specific length of time is set for the incarceration.

He said the DJS determines when a juvenile offender has been rehabilitated to a degree where he or she is ready for release. It then petitions a juvenile court judge to seek release of the juvenile, with the judge making the final decision on the request for release.

Cox said the judge would take into consideration the position of the prosecutor, which, in this case, is the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s office.

Mark Scurti, an attorney representing Polis, said he plans to inform the court that Polis joins the State’s Attorney’s office in opposing early release for the juvenile. He said he would seek permission to have Polis testify in opposition to the release if the judge calls a court hearing on the matter.

Scurti has said Polis overcame the physical injuries she received in the attack but suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, which was brought about by the attack.

Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, a transgender advocacy group, said her organization won’t second guess the action by DJS or the judge that makes the final decision on the possible release of the juvenile charged in the Polis case.

“We stand by the action by the state prosecutor who prosecuted Ms. Brown as an adult in this case and we would stand by he action of the juvenile justice system in the juvenile case,” Beyer said.

“But what we would like to see is a change in the culture that would ensure that this type of violence doesn’t occur again,” she said.

Beyer said Gender Rights Maryland also would welcome a decision by Baltimore County and state officials to testify before the County Council and before the state General Assembly on behalf of pending transgender non-discrimination bills expected to come up for a vote this year in both bodies.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

4 Comments
  • Dana Beyer is full of crap. The girl that beat and kicked Ms. Polis needs to remain in a secure facility to ensure the safety of the public at large and especially the transgender community. If she is released after such a brief period of time it sends the wrong message to all the young thugs out there that are thinking about attacking a transgender person. They won’t think twice about doing it knowing they’ll get less than a year for 1st degree assault and battery. The same crime for which an adult received five years in prison.

    To say this an outrage is an understatement. It says that the Department of Juvenile Services is full of like minded bigots that side with the attacker and probably coddled her the entire she has been locked up. Governor O’Malley should investigate the D.J.S. and see what the hell is wrong with their senior staff. If the victim were a wealthy white man this girl wouldn’t see the light of day until she turned 18.

  • I remember watching this video and thinking how can people do this to other with no regard for other safety. People throw their whole lives away over dumb things like this.

  • As advocates for any issue one may work for, we need always to be mindful of our communities complete needs. TransMaryland’s purpose is to the civil rights, health, well-being and human dignity of all members of Maryland’s transgender community. The attack on Ms Polis was well documented. Her safety and well being is paramount. We are pleased that Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney John Cox plans on opposing the early release of the juvenile involved in this attack. Within justice there should also be allowances for redemption. We feel the juvenile involves deserves redemption as long as the needs of the impacted have been heard and considered. Ms Polis plans to oppose the early release and we support her.

  • As advocates for any issue one may work for, we need always to be mindful of our communities complete needs. TransMaryland’s purpose is to the civil rights, health, well-being and human dignity of all members of Maryland’s transgender community. The attack on Ms Polis was well documented. Her safety and well being is paramount. We are pleased that Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney John Cox plans on opposing the early release of the juvenile involved in this attack. Within justice there should also be allowances for redemption. We feel the juvenile involves deserves redemption as long as the needs of the impacted have been heard and considered. Ms Polis plans to oppose the early release and we support her.

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