A transgender woman has filed a lawsuit against Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and several prison officials, alleging she suffered repeated harassment and sexual assault after being housed with male inmates.
Jules Williams said in the suit that she was placed with male inmates despite being asked to be placed into protective custody at the county jail. The incidents occurred over a period of years during stays in jail for nonviolent offenses in 2015, 2016, and this year.
Williams said that she was verbally harassed, made to shower in front of male guards and inmates, and strip searched and patted down by male guards. In 2015, she said she was raped over the course of four days, despite her cries for help, including through use of the cell’s emergency call button.
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“She suffered severe physical and emotional harm,” said Alec Wright, one of her attorneys. “It’s not just the male inmates that engage in this practice, but the staff, as well.”
“If the individual identifies as transgender, the health care professionals then notify leadership,” said Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper. “Within 72 hours of admission to the facility, the individual appears before a transgender committee which makes a recommendation on housing after interviewing the individual. Their recommendation on housing is made to the warden.”
Wright said none of that occurred with his client, instead placing her with male inmates without thinking twice.
“Here, the jail’s practice is something much different than its policy,” he said.
“Ms. Williams has suffered trauma that few of us can imagine,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, also part of her legal team. “Her situation was completely mismanaged by administrators at the jail, and they must be held accountable. No one deserves to experience what she’s been through.”