A transgender inmate has filed a lawsuit alleging that correction officials showed “deliberate indifference” by housing her with cisgender male inmates, despite the fact that their policy is to house inmates according to their gender identity. That indifference not only violated her Eighth Amendment rights but, she alleges, led to her being sexually assaulted twice by two separate cellmates.
Her lawsuit further claims that the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDoC) had “knowingly and recklessly disregarding the excessive risk to Plaintiff’s health and safety, of which they were aware, resulting in Plaintiff’s sexual assault.”
The lawsuit was filed on March 2 in the U.S. District Court for Michigan. The incarcerated woman, anonymously identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, came to the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, MI sometime in January 2020.
The prison knew that Doe was a trans woman, and according to the lawsuit. MDoC’s own policy dictates that prisons have “special management plans developed in consideration of specific factors to determine where to house transgender prisoners.” Further, Doe has a “medical detail prohibiting her housing with a non-gender dysphoric cellmate.”
Still, she was assigned to housing with “a known rapist and murderer imprisoned for life for killing a woman during sexual intercourse,” the lawsuit alleges.
She objected and immediately requested help when the cellmate began “intimating that he was going to harm Plaintiff and warning … that it would be better for her to go to the hole.” Still, correctional officers refused to move her and even threatened to punish her if she continued to speak up.
She was assaulted that same night “with forcible penetration” and taken to a hospital for treatment. Upon her return, she was reassigned — but still housed with a “non-gender dysphoric” cellmate. They were also a “cellmate who self-identified as a rapist and was incarcerated for first-degree criminal sexual conduct.”
She filed an internal grievance with the department and a therapist also requested her reassignment into protective custody. The lawsuit alleges that correctional officers returned her to housing with the second cellmate anyway. “That night, Plaintiff awoke to her cellmate sexually assaulting her.”
From there, Doe was able to leave G. Robert Cotton, but the irreparable damage of two sexual assaults had already started.
“Shortly thereafter Plaintiff transferred from the facility. Plaintiff, having suffered rape and sexual assault, became depressed and suicidal.”
MDoC spokesperson Chris Guatz declined to discuss the case because “we do not comment on pending litigation.”
“Prisoners, regardless of their gender identification or sexuality, have a constitutional right to be safe from sexual abuse,” Doe’s attorney said in a statement.
“MDOC failed to follow its own policies, clear national guidelines, and the housing plan that applied to our client. As a result, our client was raped.”