Transgender woman wins lawsuit against prison staff who ‘called her an animal and told her to kill herself’

‘They treated me like a circus act'

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A transgender woman has won a landmark lawsuit against Maryland prison officials.

Sandy Brown, 40, filed a complaint in April 2014, seeking $75,000 in damages against the Patuxent Institution in Jessup.

Ms Brown was serving a five-year sentence for assault when she was placed in solitary confinement for 66 days after a routine mental health screening. She said guards watched her shower, called her "it" and an "animal" and encouraged her to kill herself.

Administrative Law Judge Denise Shaffer ruled in favor of Ms Brown on Thursday, finding that officials failed to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, the national standard to protect inmates from sexual abuse by training prison staff to professionally communicate with transgender inmates.

Ms Brown issued a statement to ThinkProgress through her lawyers:

“They didn’t see me for the human being I am; they treated me like a circus act. I understand how animals at the zoo feel now. They gawked, pointed, made fun of me, and tried to break my spirit. These were people I’d never met, people I’d never done anything to.”

Judge Shaffer ruled that the prison should establish new policies for transgender inmates and ordered the prison to pay Ms Brown $5,000 for denying her recreational activities.

"The majority of Patuxent's witnesses specifically testified that they never had any training with how to work with transgender inmates and further testified that Patuxent did not have any policies in place to provide such guidance," the judge wrote.

Gerard Shields, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman, told the Associated Press that there's been a complete "shift in agency thinking" since Ms Brown's complaint was filed.

Rebecca Earlbeck, Ms Brown's attorney, told the news agency that the judge's ruling is a "victory for the rights of incarcerated transgender people."

"This ruling forces the entire state corrections system to adopt a clear policy for the treatment of transgender inmates regarding searches, housing and interaction with transgender inmates. Just as importantly, the ruling also requires mandatory staff training on these policies," she said.


Additional reporting by Reuters.