News (USA)

San Diego pays $275K settlement to trans woman after she was housed with men in jail

A corrections officer walking through a jail
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San Diego County is paying a $275,000 settlement to Kristina Frost, a transgender woman who sued police for imprisoning her with three male inmates, one of whom viciously beat her and broke her jaw.

According to Frost’s 2021 U.S. District Court lawsuit, on November 20, 2020 she was accused of a minor “book and release” crime. The crime should’ve resulted in police taking her fingerprints, photographing her, and entering her personal details into their system but not detaining her. She should have been allowed to walk free until a future court appearance.

Instead, her lawsuit says that sheriff’s deputies repeatedly misgendered her — even though her driver’s license and clothing both identified her as a woman. Officers then placed her in a jail cell with three men, she said. She kept to herself and fell asleep while sitting up, then awoke to a man punching her.

The deputies on duty failed to respond immediately, instead watching a while before intervening, Frost alleged. It took 12 hours until she received medical attention, she added.

“She was in excruciating pain from her injuries the entire time she waited,” her lawsuit said. “And because her jaw was injured, she could not eat food or even drink water while she waited.”

After being released from jail, a hospital told her she had suffered two jaw fractures. She had two surgeries, had her jaw wired shut, now wears dentures, and still suffers from the injuries, her lawyer said.

Her placement with men also violated police policy, which states that “an arrestee should be taken to a facility that coincides with the arrestee’s gender identity.”

Frost’s lawyer, Trenton Lamere, told The San Diego Union-Tribune, “This case was another tragic, yet preventable, example of such transphobic violence. Had Ms. Frost been promptly booked and released, for example, the incident would not have occurred.”

County police department spokesperson Lt. Amber Baggs said that Frost’s attacker claimed to have acted in self-defense after Frost first attacked him. Baggs also mentioned that Frost declined to press criminal charges after the assault.

In February, the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) suggested that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office update its policies to ensure that trans inmates get booked into jails matching their gender identity. Sheriff Kelly Martinez rejected the suggestion, claiming that police already properly book and house all transgender arrestees, the website reported.

After a lawyer for San Diego County failed to have the lawsuit dismissed, the county Board of Supervisors approved the settlement payment, which allowed police to admit no fault. Over the past five years, nearly $50 million in county taxpayer funds have been paid in legal settlements and jury awards for alleged police misconduct.

In a statement, Lamere said, “Ms. Frost, of course, remains mindful of her many transgender and gender nonconforming siblings who have experienced similar violence, and who have not received any kind of justice. Ms. Frost is hopeful, however, that a time will come when all people can live in harmony with one another regardless of their gender expression.”

A 2011 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality reported that 35% of previously incarcerated trans people face harassment by other inmates, and 37% report being harassed by correctional officers or staff.

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