Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Transgender Woman Files Suit against County, Jail Complaint Alleges Pleas Went Unheard

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Transgender Woman Files Suit against County, Jail Complaint Alleges Pleas Went Unheard

Article excerpt

Jules Williams was born a boy but began to live openly as female in her teen years.

She began hormone therapy at age 18 and had surgery in 2008 for breast augmentation and to remove her testicles.

Her birth certificate and state-issued identification list her as female.

Yet, when she was housed at the Allegheny County Jail in September 2015 on a theft charge, she was placed in a male holding cell, and even after she requested protective custody, she was placed in a double cell with another male inmate.

For four days, according to a lawsuit she filed Monday against the county and several officials at the jail, Ms. Williams was raped and physically assaulted by that inmate - despite her cries for help and seeking assistance through the cell's emergency call button.

"She suffered severe physical and emotional harm," said Alec Wright, one of the attorneys representing Ms. Williams, 37, in her lawsuit filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas court. "It's not just the male inmates that engage in this practice, but the staff, as well."

The civil rights complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages related to three stays Ms. Williams had at the jail since 2015. Among the defendants listed in the lawsuit are Warden Orlando Harper, Deputy Warden Simon Wainwright, Capt. Stephanie Frank, Sgt. Jesse Andracsik, Cmdr. David Hungerman, Officer Michael Istick, Officer John Kubicky, Sgt. C. Radaci; psychiatric nurse Carla Ivan and other unidentified officers and a nurse.

Amie Downs, a spokeswoman for Allegheny County, said she would not comment on the pending litigation.

She did say, however, that the jail policy regarding transgender inmates requires that within 72 hours of admission, the inmate appear before a transgender committee made up of jail staff from medical, mental health, classification and administration - including majors and deputy wardens - who interview the inmate and then make a housing recommendation to the warden.

Ms. Downs would not comment specifically on Ms. Williams' situation or whether that process occurred.

Sara Rose, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania working on Ms. Williams' case, said that her client never went through that transgender committee process and that she was not aware it existed.

Instead, Mr. Wright said that his understanding is that jail staff assign inmates to their units based on gender assignment at birth, and that they give no regard to birth certificates or state identification.

"They don't care," he said. "It's not taken into account."

The lawsuit describes numerous instances over the three stays Ms. Williams had at the jail in 2015, 2016 and 2017, of her having to shower openly in front of male inmates and corrections officers; of her being harassed physically and called derogatory names; and of her being strip-searched and patted down by male officers. …

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