Jamel Young has filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department in the Bronx Supreme Court after he says he was violated during an arrest on March 29, 2019.
BuzzFeed News reports Young, a Black trans man, had just driven to the Bronx from Georgia, where he currently lives. He was staying with a friend and dropped off his girlfriend before circling the block to look for a parking spot. After turning the corner, he was pulled over by an unmarked NYPD vehicle.
In the lawsuit, Young said police told him he was being pulled over for not having a license plate light. He informed them that he was an Army veteran and had a licensed gun in the car.
He was handcuffed and, out of fear, told the officers that he was transgender. He said this kickstarted hours of harassment, sexual assault, including allegedly being groped in a sexual manner while he was searched, and ridicule from officers.
"Plaintiff, who was handcuffed and standing by the police cruiser was briefly questioned as to the nature of his transgender status by several of the officers," the lawsuit states. "Plaintiff responded that he had been born female and had transitioned to male. After a moment in which the plaintiff could hear the officers joking amongst themselves, a male officer approached plaintiff and aggressively began to perform a search of the plaintiff’s body."
"During his 'search' the NYPD officer aggressively grabbed the plaintiff’s crotch and chest clearly in an attempt to ascertain the nature of the plaintiff’s genitals and whether he had breasts. After his humiliating and sexually violent groping of the plaintiff’s genitals, the NYPD officer returned to his brethren where plaintiff again heard them joking amongst themselves about the search," the suit added.
BuzzFeed interviewed Young who said when he was taken to the police precinct, officers continued to harass him about his gender, misgender him and humiliate him.
"Prior to being taken to central booking before being placed in the cruiser for transport plaintive was again sexually assaulted by an NYPD officer under the guise of performing a search," the suit said.
When he told officers that it was unsafe for him to use the bathroom in the cell because of his trans status, Young said he was ridiculed and misgendered again.
“It’s totally unsafe. Men get raped in jail. I know for sure if they knew the parts I had I would be getting raped,” Young told BuzzFeed.
The suit goes on to criticize the police department, jail officials and the lawyer who was assigned to Young for contributing to the horror he faced for hours. When he asked his lawyer what he was supposed to do considering he was trans, the lawyer provided little help to him.
"The plaintiff was caused to suffer violations of his civil rights, shame, fear, humiliation, and great emotional and mental distress and harm and still suffers and upon information and belief, will continue to suffer great mental pain in the future, and has expended sums of money in an effort to treat himself of said injuries and to extricate himself from the indignities and humiliation foisted upon him by the action of the defendants, their agents, servants and employees, and upon information and belief, will expend further sums in that direction, and that the plaintiff has been otherwise damaged," the suit states.
"The actions of the Defendants in aggressively groping the plaintiff’s genitals and chest for their own prurient amusement and curiosity without any legal or lawful purpose and without the plaintiff’s consent constituted an assault," the suit added.
Young is seeking $5 million in damages.
Young explained that he was later told his arrest had everything to do with the gun. He did not know that he needed a license to carry a weapon registered in a different state. The gun laws in New York are different from those in Georgia, and he did not know that licenses in New York specify whether you are allowed to carry a gun on your body as opposed to in your home or your car, according to BuzzFeed News.
This is a widespread problem for tourists to New York who are routinely arrested for this exact accidental crime. The Queens Daily Eagle reported in January that nearly 500 people have been arrested for possessing a firearm at JFK and LaGuardia airports since 2014. Gun owners, thinking New York's laws resemble other states, often make the mistake of notifying officers of their weapon, inviting unwanted scrutiny.
New York has some of the country's strictest gun laws.
BuzzFeed reported that after looking at Young's criminal record documents, it was clear that he mistook his purchase receipt as a permit.
But the mistake had little to do with how the officers treated him during the arrest and after.
“I felt worthless. I felt like all those triggers that trans people try so hard to manage throughout the transition, all of it just exploded," he told BuzzFeed. "I just felt like a ragdoll in that system. I felt like anybody could just pull me around and throw me around and treat me how they wanted to, and it’d be OK."
When asked about the situation, representatives for the NYC Department of Corrections told BuzzFeed that trans men are housed in both male and female wings throughout the system but would not go into detail.
The New York City Law Department’s director of public affairs called his allegations "troubling" but refused to comment further.
Young and Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the deputy executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told BuzzFeed that police should have a protocol in place for safely arresting and detaining transgender people.
“The gold standard is that a police department should have a clear, specific, articulated policy that everyone’s trained on that says if you are arresting someone who is transgender, you should interview them to determine where they are most safe and make an individual determination of where they should go,” Heng-Lehtinen said.
A 2019 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that the NYPD does not have specific policies in place for trans people. Unfortunately, most of the country's police departments do not have policies for what officers should do when detaining a trans individual.
Just last month, it was announced that New York City was preparing to ban solitary confinement after the death of Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco at Rikers Island last year.
Jail officials claimed they initially did not know where to place her and refused to put her in the women's unit. They considered putting her in the men's unit but decided to house her in a transgender dormitory where she got into a fight with another person. Polanco was then sentenced to 20 days in solitary confinement, where she died.
As Blavity previously reported, at least 17 corrections officers are facing punishment for what happened to Polanco.