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Trans man, others suing CA prison system

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Two queer female prisoners, a transgender inmate, and a gender nonconforming person who was formerly incarcerated are suing California's prison system claiming officers beat them up and sexually harassed them.

The lawsuit, which names the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, specific correctional officers, and other defendants, also says that the plaintiffs were denied medical treatment for their injuries and prevented from filing grievances. The complaint was filed in November but is being highlighted now amidst the #MeToo movement calling attention to sexual violence.

"Most of us are inside because of the histories of violence and abuse that we experienced and then got caught up in," plaintiff Stacy Rojas, a former inmate of Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, where the alleged abuses occurred, said in a news release. "Just because we are in prison doesn't mean that we should not have our basic human rights protected. I do not want anyone else to go through what I did. My fellow inmates used to tell me that I was singled out because of my gender and because I advocated for myself and others."

Rojas, who's gender nonconforming and uses third person pronouns, was released in January 2017 and is now part of the legal advocacy team behind the case.

CDCR spokeswoman Vicky Waters declined to comment on the case, since the agency hasn't been served with the complaint.

The assaults originally took place in November 2015, when correctional officers attacked Rojas after Rojas warned they planned to complain to prison officials about guards' repeated harassment based on Rojas' gender, according to the lawsuit.

Rojas' cellmates were then allegedly attacked after they indicated they'd report the abuse of Rojas. The three inmates were confined for almost 12 hours in programming cages where they were stomped on and suffered other abuse, the complaint says. They were then placed in solitary confinement without any treatment for their injuries and prohibited from using the restroom.

When the three plaintiffs tried to report the abuse, officials claimed their complaints had been lost, and they were never told of the results of any investigations.

In January 2017, Isaac Medina, a trans man who was then an inmate and in a wheelchair, allegedly wasn't given access to his medication. Guards attacked him when he asked why he couldn't get his meds, according to the lawsuit. His head was smashed up against a brick wall and his pants were pulled down around his ankles during the assault, and Medina was put in a programming cage and blocked from using the restroom, the complaint says, and his injuries weren't treated.

"These incidents are part of a pattern of abuse at CCWF, part of a climate of increasing violence employed by correctional officers at CCWF against transgender, gender non-conforming and queer women prisoners," Sara Kershnar of the advocacy group California Coalition for Women Prisoners, said in the news release. "... They also re-traumatize people who have suffered sexual violence and homophobia and transphobia before they were incarcerated."

The complaint says that Medina's also known as Claudia Medina. Along with Rojas, the other plaintiffs are Ivett Ayestas and Sarah Lara. (CDCR data indicate Ayestas' first name is spelled "Yvett.")

Through the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages and injunctive relief to prevent future wrongdoing.

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