It has been roughly 18 months since three transgender protesters were arrested at separate demonstrations during the summer of 2020 on misdemeanor charges of obstructing traffic and violating curfew. Christian Pallidine, Gabriela Amaya Cruz, and Ángel Jae Torres-Bucci were each taken to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center (TGK), where, they allege, officers with the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department (MDCR) humiliated them and subjected them to genital inspections
Last year, lawyers from the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic asked Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to enter into negotiations for compensation for their experiences, to discuss holding the MDCR officers accountable, and to reform the department's policies regarding transgender people. Now, having failed to reach a resolution, the trio has sued Miami-Dade County, MDCR director Daniel Junior, numerous corrections officials, and unnamed officers in a complaint filed Monday in Miami-Dade circuit court.
"They're singling out trans people just to see what's between our legs," says Gabriel Arkles, TLDEF's senior counsel, who is representing the plaintiffs. "They're allowed to do strip searches but it needs to be even-handed and for good reason. They treated our clients worse because they are trans."
All charges against the three plaintiffs were later dropped. But during their booking and brief incarceration at TGK, they allege, they were subjected to inappropriate strip searches
to look at their genitals, were placed in solitary confinement because of their gender, were referred to by their deadname, and were asked invasive questions.
Pallidine, a trans man, says he was asked whether he wanted a penis in the future. Torres-Bucci, who is a trans woman, says she was booked as a male and referred to her by male pronouns, despite her ID, which identifies her as female.
In their complaint, which is embedded at the end of this story, the plaintiffs allege they were discriminated against because of their gender and that their rights and privacy were violated. The plaintiffs also claim a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, stating that TGK staff exacerbated their gender dysphoria by their alleged mistreatment.
Amaya Cruz, who has ectrodactyly, a disability characterized by deformity in her hands, alleges physical mistreatment by staff. She claims she told the officer about her disability but was forcefully fingerprinted. She adds that her right hand had recently been operated on when she was arrested.
"I’ve gotten fingerprinted other times for paperwork and they’ve never been aggressive with my hands or my disability. She was moving my fingers around aggressively because I couldn't get my fingers straight down on the machine," Amaya Cruz tells New Times.
The complainants are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for suffering they experienced at the hands of corrections staff, and they hope to deter the department from further mistreatment of transgender inmates.
"Punitive damages are available when the government violates the constitution in a way that was willful. It's not just about compensation, it's about creating an incentive not to do the same thing in the future," Arkles says.
Arkles and Amaya Cruz want to see the county change the way it handles trans people who come through the system. They'd like to prohibit strip searches of transgender inmates only for the purpose of confirming their genitalia, and they want officers who violate discrimination standards held accountable.
"I hope that people in my community see this as a form of hope and a form of change, so that future trans people who might be arrested or go through the criminal justice system don't fear getting treated badly just because of their gender identity," Amaya Cruz says.
Miami-Dade Corrections has not responded to New Times
' request for comment.