Houston, TX ( October 23, 2014 ) - Lambda Legal today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Passion Star, a transgender woman currently in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ( TDCJ ), arguing that TCDJ officials have displayed deliberate indifference to threats of sexual assault and violence against Ms. Star in TDCJ's male facilities.
"Ms. Star has been pleading for protection from rapes, beatings, knifings and threats to her life since she entered TDCJ custody as a teenager, but instead of separating her from aggressors, Texas prison officials have forced her to remain in the general population in male prisons, even though the risk that she would be seriously harmed was obvious," Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Jael Humphrey said. "It is absolutely appalling how TDCJ officials, following the clear lead of Governor Rick Perry, callously ignore the desperate pleas of Ms. Star and other LGBT people in custody asking to be protected from sexual abuse."
Now 30, as a teenager Ms. Star pled guilty to aggravated kidnapping based on allegations that her boyfriend refused to return the used car they were test driving to the dealership, instead driving for several hours with the car salesman in the passenger seat and Ms. Star in the back. Ms. Star was sentenced to 20 years in prison and transferred to the custody of TDCJ where she has been housed in male facilities.
In the six male facilities where she has been housed, male inmates have identified Ms. Star as feminine. She has been raped, forced to submit to undesired sexual acts to escape violence, and threatened with sexual assault. She has filed dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, TDCJ officials have told her to "suck dick," "fight" or to stop "acting gay" if she does not want to be assaulted. On November 19, 2013, Ms. Star appealed to TDCJ officials for protection from a gang member who told her that he "owned" her. Instead of protecting her, TDCJ officials actually moved her closer to the person who was threatening her. The next morning, the gang member attacked Ms. Star, calling her a "snitching faggot," and slashed her face eight times with a razor. Even after this horrific attack prison officials refuse to move Ms. Star to safekeeping to protect her from violence in the general population.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act ( PREA ), passed unanimously by Congress, requires states to take measures to eliminate sexual abuse of people in custody and provides guidance on how to do so by, for example, screening and separating particularly vulnerable people, such as transgender women in male facilities, from likely aggressors. Gov. Perry, however, dismissed the PREA standards as "ill-conceived" and decided to pass up funding for Texas that the Department of Justice had earmarked for the prevention of sexual assault in detention facilities.
"Somebody, somehow, needs to shed light on what is taking place here in Texas prisons," Ms. Star said in a written statement. "TDCJ officials get away with so much and disregard so many legitimate threats to people's safety. It needs to stop somewhere. I fight for my life every day in here. Safety from rape and assault is not a privilege; it's a right. I hope that this lawsuit will help make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else."
Lambda Legal's lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, claims TDCJ officials acted in deliberate disregard to the real and evident threats faced by Ms. Star, ignoring both the State's own written policies regarding treatment of LGBT people in custody, the documented evidence of gang activity in Texas prisons, and the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act ( PREA ).
The case is Zollicoffer a/k/a Passion Star v. Livingston. A copy of the brief is available here:http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/star_20141023_complaint
Lambda Legal attorneys Jael Humphrey, Kenneth Upton and Paul Castillo are handling the case, joined by co-counsel Christina N. Goodrich, Christopher J. Kondon and Saman M. Rejali with K&L Gates LLP.