A transgender D.C. woman alleges in a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service that she was improperly placed with male prisoners after a 2009 arrest.
Patti Hammond Shaw of Southeast Washington said she turned herself in to officers at the Sixth District station on June 18, 2009, after she received a letter that stated there was a warrant for her arrest for filing a false police report. Shaw claims that she showed officers her identification that proved she was legally female, but they placed her in a cell in the men’s section. She further alleges that male prisoners “asked to see her vagina, breasts and buttocks.”
D.C. police subsequently remanded Shaw, who underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1999, to the custody of U.S. marshals. She said she insisted that she is a woman, but Shaw claims that they insisted she was a man and referred to her by her birth name Melvin. The lawsuit states that the male marshal who searched Shaw “groped her breasts, buttocks and between her legs repeatedly and excessively.” She further alleges that other marshals made crude comments about her breasts and gender.
The lawsuit claims that marshals placed Shaw in a holding cell with approximately 30 men who were going to traffic court. “Several of the men in the holding cell touched Ms. Shaw inappropriately, verbally harassed and propositioned her, threatened to punch her if she did not show her breasts to them, and shook their penises at her,” it reads.
Shaw also claims that she was forced to urinate in a cup in “full view of the men in the holding cell.” She further states that a male detainee to whom she was chained touched her “inappropriately several times” as they went into D.C. Superior Court. Shaw said that the marshals told the man to stop harassing her and instructed her to ignore him. She alleges that the male detainee continued to harass her and the marshals “did not take any further action.”
“Going through something like this was very, very, very hard for me being a transsexual woman,” Shaw told the Blade. “I kept telling them I was a woman and they said, ‘that’s what they all say.’ They didn’t believe that I had sex reassignment surgery. They didn’t believe me at all.”
Arrestees receive a Police Department Identification Number that is linked to their name and gender when they are taken into custody for the first time.
D.C. police in 2007 adopted a policy that states trans arrestees must remain in a holding cell by themselves. Personnel are required to remain cognizant of a detainee’s gender identity and expression, and immediately notify their commanding officer if their record indicates a different gender than the one that they present at the time of their arrest. The policy further states that MPD staff should pass this information along to the U.S. Marshals Service or other law enforcement agencies that may transport a prisoner.
Neither the MPD nor the U.S. Marshals Service responded to the Blade’s request for comment, but the lawsuit alleges that D.C. police failed to adhere to their own policy. It further accuses Steve Conboy, former U.S. marshal for the D.C. Superior Court, of “intentionally disregarding gender information about transgender detainees” that MPD employees relayed to members of the U.S. Marshals Service. The lawsuit also names Benjamin Kates, former acting U.S. marshal for the D.C. Superior Court, as a co-defendant.
U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle last November dismissed Shaw’s lawsuit on procedural grounds, but she said she could pursue them in U.S. District Court in spite of her belief that they would ultimately not proceed.
Shaw’s attorney, Jeffrey Light, told the Blade that his client’s incarceration with male inmates was based on where “her genitals used to be.”
“There’s absolutely no legitimate reason for that,” he said. “Individuals have different ideas about where they would be safest. Some people want to be in a cell by themselves, some people would prefer to be in the general population with people of the gender with which they identify. It makes sense when anybody is in custody in the criminal system where they feel safest is taken into account.”
Shaw is seeking unspecified monetary damages that a jury would ultimately determine if her case goes to trial.
Light said he has met with Michael Hughes, the gay current U.S. marshal for D.C. Superior Court, to discuss the concerns highlighted in Shaw’s lawsuit. He said Hughes’ office has solicited input from the D.C. Trans Coalition on how to improve the treatment of trans prisoners while in custody.
“This was a very positive step that we were invited to work on that,” said Light.