In 2013, a grandma was arrested on a drug charge, misclassified as transgender, and sent to an all-male prison where she was harassed. Now a federal appeals court has reinstated her lawsuit against the doctor and nurse who misgendered her despite a strip-search.
Fior Pichardo de Veloz, who is now an attorney and an elected local official in the Dominican Republic, was visiting Miami to be present at her grandchild’s birth when she was arrested for a decades-old federal drug warrant she was unaware of, according to the Miami Herald.
According to the court’s factual background of the case:
When originally arrested, Pichardo’s gender was listed as female. When she was processed at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, she was processed as a female. After being strip-searched by a female officer who said she “did not notice anything abnormal,” Pichardo was given a female jumpsuit.
But after Pichardo was sent to the medical unit for a routine checkup due to her high blood pressure history, a nurse asked a corrections officer if Pichardo was actually a woman because she was taking hormone pills to help with symptoms of menopause.
“Male inmates take hormone pills to enhance their breasts,” the nurse, Fatu Kamara Harris, said to the corrections officer. Harris then asked Pichardo what her gender was; she responded she was a woman.
Pichardo was then led to an exam room where Dr. Fredesvindo Rodriguez-Garcia asked her a series of questions about her medical history but did not perform a physical examination, ask her about her gender, or question why she was on hormone pills.
Rodriguez-Garcia later reclassified Pichardo as a man.
Harris, who was not present in the exam room when Rodriguez-Garcia met with Pichardo, later told a jail officer that “everything fell out” in the exam, referring to Pichardo’s nonexistent male genitals.
The officer protested and called her supervisor, but was unable to go against the doctor’s orders.
“Transgender, male parts, female tendencies,” Harris added to Pichardo’s file.
Another officer, Kimberly Jones, questioned Harris about the physical examination but the court documents claim Harris replied, “She’s a man,” and walked away.
Pichardo was then transported to the all-male Metro West Detention center where she again tried to affirm her true gender to an officer. “You are a woman. Good luck if you’re alive tomorrow,” the officer reportedly replied.
Pichardo was then placed in a cell with about 40 men where she said she feared for her life, according to the opinion. Pichardo said male inmates called out to her, yelling “Mami! Mami!” She told an investigator that she felt “psychologically assaulted” because “everyone looked at her as if she was a piñata.” Pichardo also said she urinated on herself because she was too afraid to use the toilet.
The court documents also state:
Pichardo was put at the front of the room where the officers “always” put “someone that looks female” so officers can watch them for protection. One elderly inmate attempted to stand up for Pichardo and tell officers Pichardo was female, but officers did not do anything.
The jail only realized the mistake when Pichardo’s family members demanded answers.
Another strip-search was performed where Pichardo says male officers laughed at her and one person even took a photo of her when she was undressed.
The nurse who strip-searched her confirmed her true gender and Pichardo was transferred back to the correctional center where she was originally processed and misgendered.
Pichardo sued on the grounds that the jail staff violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “cruel and unusual punishment” clause.
Despite a federal judge throwing out the case earlier claiming the staffers from the jail were protected from a trail for negligence, a federal appeals court reinstated the lawsuit against the nurse and doctor who originally misgendered her.
The court added that there was strong evidence that the conduct of the doctor and nurse amounts to “deliberate indifference.”
“Moreover, like Nurse Harris, Dr. Rodriguez, knew that sending a woman to an all-male prison would pose a risk of serious harm to her safety,” Judge Frank Hull wrote in the unanimous opinion.
“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,” Hull added.
“The opinion correctly held, as we believed, that the defendants could not be so struthious as to ignore the overwhelming evidence in front of them that Mrs. Pichardo was in fact female,” said Pichardo’s lawyer, Ryan Marks.