A woman who was jailed in an all-male cell after staff declared her to be transgender will be able to pursue legal action, a Miami court ruled on November 21.
Fior Pichardo De Veloz was jailed for 10 hours in a holding cell with other male inmates in November 2013 after a jail doctor and nurse mistakenly identified her as “transgender, male parts, female tendencies,” according to the court opinion.
Pichardo first filed a federal lawsuit against the Miami-Dade jail system in 2016 alleging “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the US Constitution.
The district court dismissed the case in June last year, but the appeals court has now ruled the conduct of the nurse and doctor amounted to “deliberate indifference” and do not qualify for immunity.
The bizarre case detailed in the court documents highlights the constraints of having to prove a person’s gender, particularly in situations where the person in question is in a vulnerable position.
Pichardo, who is now 55, is an attorney and local elected official in the Dominican Republic. She had travelled to Florida due to the birth of her grandchild, but was arrested upon arrival at Miami International Airport on drug charges she did not know where outstanding, The Miami Herald reported.
Her arrest report listed her as a female and she also underwent a strip search that confirmed her gender marker. Then she was made to undergo an examination at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center jail medical unit due to her history of high blood pressure.
Fior Pichardo De Veloz was identified as male by staff that did not physically examine her
The medical staff who examined her, Dr. Fredesvindo Rodriguez-Garcia and Nurse Fatu Kamara Harris, began raising questions about Pichardo’s gender because she was undergoing hormone replacement therapy—a common treatment for menopausal women of Pichardo’s age.
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“He wrote on her medical chart that she was a ‘male on hormonal treatment transgender’ and indicated that she ‘could go to the general [male] population.’ He did so without ever physically examining Mrs. Pichardo or asking Nurse Harris to physically examine her,” the court documents state.
The doctor recommended a physical examination to take place at a subsequent time. Nurse Harris told officers who expressed doubts over Pichardo’s male gender marker that “she’s a man” and then walked away.
The officers’ superior eventually trusted the doctor’s opinion and ordered Pichardo to be sent to a male facility.
“Nobody has abused me physically but psychologically yes.”
— Fior Pichardo De Veloz
Pichardo was then placed in a cell in Metro West jail along with about 40 other male inmates, who harassed her. When she told an officer there she was a woman, the officer replied: “You are a woman. Good luck if you are alive tomorrow,” according to court documents.
Only after her family heard of she was sent to a male facility and insisted there had been a mistake, was Pichardo examined once again to determine her gender.
Pichardo says that several male corrections officers were present during the strip search, and they were laughing at her. She also recalled someone taking pictures while she was undressed.
The female nurse conducting the examination determined Pichardo’s gender was female, and the inmate was then transferred to a female facility. She was released two days later.
“Nobody has abused me physically but psychologically yes,” Pichardo said of the ordeal, quoted in NBC Miami in 2013.