SoCal County Settles Bias Claims by Gay & Trans Inmates

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A group of gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals who were systematically discriminated against and mistreated while incarcerated at a Southern California jail reached a deal Wednesday that will compel jail officials to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination.

Dan McKibben, a former sheriff’s officer from Indiana, said he identified himself as gay while being processed at the West Valley Detention Center in San Bernardino County. Jailers immediately sent him to the so-called “Alternative Lifestyle Tank.”

McKibben, who was jailed for two months in 2014 on a probation violation, said he was kept in his cell on average nearly 23 hours a day. He filed a federal class action in 2014 along with 15 other gay, bisexual and transgender individuals but died in 2016.

The lawsuit – which said the tank held 600 people between 2012 and 2018 – claimed jailers called plaintiffs derogatory names and repeatedly denied them opportunities to participate in the jail’s work, education, drug rehabilitation and religious programs.

Lynn Price, a transgender woman who was incarcerated at West Valley, said she was put in the tank for all but one or two hours a day.

“It felt so lonely and humiliating back then, seeing everyone else out and allowed to eat together, talk with each other,” Price said.

San Bernardino County, Sheriff John McMahon and Sheriff’s Department personnel Greg Garland, Jeff Rose, James Mahan and Armando Castillo were named defendants in the lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and law firm Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt, representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement Wednesday that they will seek approval of the settlement at a hearing Friday morning before U.S District Judge Jesus G. Bernal.

Attorneys will also ask Bernal to certify a class of 655 people.

As part of the proposed settlement, defendants will pay damages of $950,000 and $1.1 million in attorney’s fees.

Attorneys for McMahon and other defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The proposed settlement would open work and educational programs, mandate staff training and establish a policy of zero tolerance for harassment of gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

“Over the past 20-plus years of litigation against jails, it has been our experience that jail culture often undermines recognition of inmates’ humanity,” said attorney David S. McLane of Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt. “This culture had led to a complete disregard for inmates’ fundamental constitutional right to equal treatment.”

McLane said the county can set the “national example” of how jails can respect people’s identities and value their dignity without compromising safety.

Under the terms of the settlement, the tank will be renamed the Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Unit and will operate under the mandate that “incarcerated people are to be free from sexual abuse and harassment,” according to the statement.

The jail unit will provide medical care, privacy protections and housing placements for transgender people.

Staff whistleblowers will be protected from retaliation when reporting incidents of abuse, according to the settlement.

A new committee comprised of jail facility, medical, and social work personnel will meet regularly with people housed in the new unit to discuss their needs and address any incidents of discrimination and abuse.

“Nobody should be forced to choose between their safety and equal treatment while in custody,” said ACLU attorney Brendan Hamme.

 

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