When Fior Pichardo de Veloz flew from the Dominican Republic to Miami on November 4, 2013, she was expecting a family-oriented vacation. Her daughter was about to give birth, making Pichardo a grandma for the third time. But at Miami International Airport, authorities arrested Pichardo for what her attorney David Kubiliun describes as a drug charge from 25 years ago in New York (he says the charges were later dismissed).
Within a few hours, authorities had put Pichardo in a cell in a men's jail, where she feared she would be beaten or raped. She is now suing the Miami Dade Correctional Facility and the officers who handled her.
"They had a duty at that point to act, to make sure that she along with any other inmates aren't placed in harm's way," Kubiliun says. "It seems as though none of them did exercise that duty."
Authorities initially booked Pichardo as a woman at Miami-Dade County Inmate sorting center, according to the complaint, but then correctional officers thought Pichardo may be a man. In his incident report obtained by Broadly, corrections officer Tambrinesha Randall describes Pichardo as exhibiting "non traditional male characteristics."
A woman identified as "Nurse F Harris" in the incident report and lawsuit then examined Pichardo. She allegedly made Pichardo strip down and reported her "male sexual organs" to the officers. Pichardo was then placed in a cell at the Metro West Facility with 40 male inmates. The lawsuit claims that as an officer placed her in a cell, he told her in Spanish, "[You'll be] lucky if I see you alive tomorrow."
"The interesting thing about this is that my client is trying to explain to them throughout this whole process that she's a woman, and they're not listening to her, and we don't know what happened in that exchange," Kubiliun says. "We think, maybe, my client was trying to explain to them and they got frustrated with her. Maybe she gave them a little attitude, we don't know. Obviously, this was intentional."
Kubiliun believes his was client in serious risk in the jail cell, and the suit alleges men threatened and harassed her. Kubiliun says Pichardo urinated in her jumpsuit because the cell only had an open bathroom, and using it could have put Pichardo in serious danger. "Their job and duty is to make sure that no one is in harm's way," Kubiliun says. "They have a duty to protect the people that are incarcerated."
University of California Los Angeles law professor Sharon Dolovich directs the UCLA Prison Law & Policy Program. She believes the case could indicate that the correctional officers violated the eighth amendment. "Among other things, these facts suggest a clear constitutional violation," she says. "The standard for unconstitutional jail conditions is effectively the same as with prison conditions: State officials have to consciously disregard a substantial risk of serious harm to people in custody. Anyone who knows anything about prisons and jails knows that putting people who present as female—who, as in this case, wear heavy make-up and dresses in a flamboyantly feminine way—in a cell with 40-plus male prisoners is highly dangerous."
The confusion also meant that Pichardo's family struggled to locate her—they were looking for an inmate in a woman's jail, and she had been booked as a man in the system. Kubiliun says they ended up hiring a lawyer just to find her.
When the corrections facility realized their mistake, they removed Pichardo from her cell. They allegedly brought her to a room where two women forced her to strip down, so they could photograph her genitalia.
"While the woman is taking these pictures and having her pose in these very uncomfortable positions, other male guards are looking on and laughing at her," Kubiliun claims.
Pichardo's handwritten inmate witness statement obtained by Broadly recounts some of these details: "If I have changed my sex and take my cloths [sic] off many times and ask me, why have I done it, telling them 'no,' but they keep asking me. Causing my pressure to elevate, because I was taken to a male jail, and I am a woman."
The suit claims that the authorities allegedly tried to identify Pichardo's gender through her genitals, even though determining a woman's biological sex does not fall into the purview of Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department's medical services or care. Pichardo asks the court to award her over $75,000 for legal fees, compensatory and special damages, and pain and suffering.
"I am a woman," Pichardo says in the handwritten inmate witness statement obtained by Broadly. "Nobody has abused me physically, but psychologically yes."
When reached for comment, Miami Dade Correctional Facility spokeswoman Chandra Gavin said they could not comment on pending investigations.