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Transgender woman sues D.C. police, U.S. marshals

Claims authorities placed her with male detainees after 2009 arrest

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Transgender, Patti Hammond Shaw
Gay News, Washington Blade, Transgender

Patti Hammond Shaw (Photo courtesy of Patti Hammond Shaw)

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.

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Delaware

Flight attendants union endorses Sarah McBride

Del. lawmaker would be first transgender member of Congress

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Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware congressional candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s president, Sara Nelson, wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Washington Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike — putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington — including with the White House — and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by HRC shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat — 44 percent of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online — meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted — and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s state Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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Virginia

Lawsuit seeks to force Virginia Beach schools to implement state guidelines for trans, nonbinary students

Va. Department of Education released new regulations in July

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(Bigstock photo)

Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

NBC Washington on Friday reported Cooper and Kirk, a D.C.-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

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Local

HME Consulting and Advocacy stands on frontline of LGBTQ policy

Heidi Ellis is a consultant who doesn’t take clients ‘not aligned with my mission’

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‘Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,’ says Heidi Ellis. (Photo courtesy of Ellis)

September is here, which means Congress and the D.C. Council return from their August recess and life for consultant Heidi Ellis quickly gets busy. 

Her days are filled with negotiating with Council members, phone calls with clients, and policy planning for advocacy groups. The organizations she represents are looking to her to help them push policy and she hopes to guide them to victory. 

Ellis’s company, HME Consulting and Advocacy, came after years of working in the public and private sectors as a consultant. In 2019, Ellis decided to shift her focus to work that stood at the center of the intersections in which she lives. She sought to figure out how she could better serve her community as a Black queer Latino woman. Ellis recognized that there was a niche for mission-driven consulting in the District. 

“I was sought out and recruited by a lot of organizations that wanted me and I took a beat, because I was like ‘Do I want to go back into a machine where even if I do effect change, I have to answer to someone?’”she said, in reference to consulting agencies that were in pursuit of her talent. Ultimately, she decided against continuing her work under another company. “By doing what I do, I have much more flexibility for one to say ‘Yes’ but also to say ‘No’.”

Although Ellis has considered going back to working in the corporate space, she still loves the flexibility of being able to be nimble as a private consultant. 

Although Ellis doesn’t work entirely in the advocacy space, her consulting clients still align with her personal values. She joked that she differs strongly from the stereotypical money-driven D.C. consultant who sports Brooks Brothers suits on K Street. 

“Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,” she said. “I don’t take any clients that are not aligned with my mission.”

Her mission is simple, Ellis is “committed to elevating issues that sit at the nexus of education, mental health, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of color.”

“The more marginalized you are, the more you suffer from the failures of policy and the gaps of service,” she said. 

As a consultant in the advocacy space, Ellis does the behind-the-scenes work for organizations to help correct these policy failures and close the gaps. Whether she is facilitating training for companies to better understand how to serve their LGBTQ communities, or she is on the frontline of education policy changes –– Ellis aims to only do work that she is passionate about.

She said that the balance of her combined passion and level-headedness help her to build trusting relationships with her clients and in the end, “Get stuff  done.”

Since starting her organization, some of her proudest work has been done with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition. The coalition is made up of more than 30 organizations that aim to advocate for investments and policy changes that affect LGBTQ lives. As a leader of this coalition, her services include policy support, facilitation, training, initiative development and organizational redesign. Since she began leading the coalition, they have raised more than $5 million of investments in LGBTQ programs.

Later this fall, she will work with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition along with the ANC Rainbow Caucus to convene the first LGBTQ+ Housing Summit from Nov. 29-30.

“The one thing we all recognize is that housing is the common denominator of every other social affliction facing LGBTQ communities,” she said.  

At the summit they will focus on the barriers within the current housing system and explore revitalized approaches to dealing with the current housing market. To pre-register for the event, visit the LGBTQ+ Housing Summit website.

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