"Transgender, male parts, female tendencies."
A woman is suing her Miami jailers for locking her up with men after they incorrectly deemed her to be a transgender man.
Employees of the Miami-Dade County Corrections Department put Fior Pichardo de Veloz, a 55-year-old attorney and elected official in the Dominican Republic, in a cell with about 40 men, according to a federal appeals court ruling issued last month. She became so terrified that “she urinated on herself instead" of using the toilet, said the unanimous opinion, which relies on jail internal affairs documents.
The lawsuit comes as some ― including feminists ― have raised concerns that recognition of transgender identity could threaten women's safety in places like prisons and shelters. Meanwhile, many transgender activists have dismissed such worries as overblown, and even bigoted.
Pichardo was arrested at the Miami International Airport on an outstanding drug charge from 2013, the Miami Herald reported. She had flown in to Florida from the Dominican Republic for the birth of her grandchild.
The arresting officer listed Pichardo's gender as female and she was booked and processed as such at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in a process that included a strip search. Due to her history of high blood pressure, Pichardo was given a routine medical examination. The nurse noted she had been taking hormone pills ― which were in fact for menopause ― and asked if she was a man.
Despite Pichardo's denial, the nurse, Fatu Kamara Harris, recorded her as: "Transgender, male parts, female tendencies." The jail's doctor, Dr. Fredesvindo Rodriguez-Garcia, then reclassified Pichardo as a man based solely on the nurse's determination.
The nurse inexplicably told one corrections officer that the doctor had examined Pichardo and discovered male genitals, saying "everything fell out," according to the court ruling. She brushed off another jailer who repeatedly asked if she had checked Pichardo's genitals.
“Nurse Harris simply replied, ‘She’s a man’ and walked away," the ruling said.
Next, Pichardo was transferred t o the all-male jail, where some of her cellmates laughed and shouted, “Mami! Mami!"
Only after Pichardo's family members arrived and demanded answers did the jailers take her from the cell and give her a new exam. According to Pichardo, several male corrections officers laughed at her during the exam, and someone took a photo of her while she was undressed. After a nurse verified that Pichardo was not transgender, she was transferred back to Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.
Pichardo later sued the country and the jail staff, saying she had been subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of her constitutional rights. A federal judge initially threw out her lawsuit, saying the jail staffers could not be tried for negligence.
But the appeals court last month reinstated the lawsuit against the jail's doctor and the nurse who did the first exam. On Nov. 21, the court ruled that the conduct of two, in the face of strong evidence that Pichardo was a woman, constitutes “deliberate indifference.”
"Every reasonable prison officer and medical personnel would have known that wrongfully misclassifying a biological female as a male inmate and placing that female in the male population of a detention facility was unlawful," Judge Frank Hull wrote.
A lawyer representing Pichardo told the Herald "we are pleased” with the court’s decision, which will allow her to move ahead with the lawsuit. Attorneys for the doctor and nurse did not provide comment.
Cover image: Fior Pichardo de Veloz. (Miami-Dade Corrections)