News & Politics

Transgender Snafu: Jail Staff Put Grandmother in Men's Prison, Judge Lets the Case Go to Trial

In 2013 — two years before Bruce Jenner “came out” as transgender — jail staff assumed a grandmother was transgender because she was taking hormone pills. They put her in a men’s prison, subjecting her to horrific indignity. Last month, a federal appeals court reinstated the grandmother’s lawsuit against the jail doctor and nurse who insisted this inmate be transferred to a men’s prison.

“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 in a unanimous opinion released November 21, the Miami Herald reported.

Fior Pichardo de Veloz, now 55, is an attorney and local elected official in the Dominican Republic. She came to Miami in 2013 to witness the birth of her grandchild, but was arrested on an old drug case she didn’t know was outstanding.

From the very beginning, Pichardo’s female sex was painstakingly clear. The arresting officer marked her as “female” and she was processed as a woman at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, where she was given an orange female jumpsuit.

Pichardo has a history of high blood pressure, however, so she was escorted to the medical unit. Nurse Fatu Kamara Harris noticed that the grandmother’s file referenced hormone pills — which she was taking to alleviate menopause symptoms.

Harris asked whether the inmate was a man, noting that “male inmates take hormone pills to enhance their breasts.” The nurse asked Pichardo about her biological sex, and the grandmother replied she was a woman.

Dr. Fredesvindo Rodriguez-Garcia met with the inmate at around 2 a.m., asking about her medical history but never asking “if she was a woman, a man or transgender,” or why she was taking hormone pills, Judge Hull’s opinion explained. Without performing a physical examination, Rodriguez-Garcia designated her as a man.

Harris, the nurse, reportedly told the jail officer that the doctor’s exam revealed Pichardo’s supposedly male genitals. The officer protested, even calling her supervisor — but the officers had to yield to the doctor’s orders.  The nurse wrote in Pichardo’s file: “Transgender, male parts, female tendencies.”

Another concerned officer asked Harris three times whether she had physically examined Pichardo’s private parts, but the nurse brushed her off. “Nurse Harris simply replied, ‘She’s a man’ and walked away.”

When the inmate arrived at an all-male jail, she told an officer that she was a woman. “You’re a woman. Good luck if you’re alive tomorrow,” the officer said, according to Judge Hull’s opinion.

Pichardo was placed in a large cell with 40 men, who laughed and yelled out, “mami! mami!” According to Judge Hull, she was so afraid to use the toilet that “she urinated on herself instead.”

Only after her family complained did staff take her out of the holding cell for an examination. Even male officers laughed at her during the examination, Pichardo testified. She remembered someone taking a photo of her while she was undressed.

The woman later sued the county and jail staff for subjecting her to “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Constitution. A federal judge threw out her lawsuit, claiming the jail staffers were protected from a trial for negligence.

Judge Hull reversed the ruling, leading a unanimous appeals court ruling that the nurse and the doctor engaged in “deliberate indifference” to whether or not Pichardo was in fact a woman. The nurse was “exposed to consistent and repeated information that Mrs. Pichardo was a woman,” while the doctor “knew that sending a woman to an all-male prison would pose a risk of serious harm to her safety, however, he took no steps to verify Mrs. Pichardo’s sex before re-classifying her as male.”

Ryan Marks, the grandmother’s lawyer, said “we are pleased” with the decision. “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.”

While this seems an isolated case, it points to many of the problems with accepting the transgender movement when it comes to prisons. Even if society at large accepts that biological men who identify as women are indeed women, these people are on average stronger and larger because they are indeed men. It is rational for female inmates in women’s prisons to fear that biological men represent a threat to them, even if those male inmates identify as women.

Biological men have indeed claimed to identify as women in order to be sent to women’s prisons, so it makes sense to verify whether or not someone really is a woman before placing him or her in a woman’s prison.

This case had nothing to do with gender identity, and everything to do with an entirely mistaken insistence that Pichardo was in fact male, on the basis of hormone pills that the doctor and nurse did not bother to ask the grandmother about.

Activists in the transgender movement might claim the issue of identity is central here — indeed, PinkNews suggested this case “highlights the constraints of having to prove a person’s gender.” Regardless of biological sex, Pichardo identified as female, they might claim.

On the contrary, the judge and the grandmother’s lawyer centered the case on the right issue — Pichardo was and is biologically female, no matter how she might be perceived or even how she might identify.

Her continued rightful insistence that she was indeed female only added insult to the injury of this “cruel and unusual punishment.”

None of this excuses Pichardo of her drug violation, but no crime justifies this treatment.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.