MANHATTAN (CN) - A transgender Occupy Wall Street activist handcuffed to a wall of a police precinct bathroom for seven hours won the right to pursue bias claims against New York City, in a ruling that his lawyer hailed as an "historic" and "significant victory."
On Oct. 1, 2011, activist Justin Adkins became one of the hundreds arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge during a protest that catapulted the then-fledgling Occupy Wall Street movement into the international spotlight.
At the 90th precinct in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, police initially placed Adkins in a holding cell with other men before moving him to a chair next to the bathroom. Adkins said that police forced him to sit there for the next several hours with his wrist handcuffed him to a metal handrail.
Police insist that they separated Adkins for his own safety, but he says that nobody raised a safety concern to justify this.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff found that transgender people qualified as a "quasi-suspect class" entitled to a "more exacting standard of judicial review" for allegations of discrimination because of a history of persecution.
This is the same category that the Second Circuit assigned to gay people in the marriage-equality case of Windsor v. United States, Rakoff noted.
At the time of the Windsor case, there were gay members of both branches of Congress and the federal judiciary, but transgender people are even more of a "politically powerless minority" because they have not yet reached these crossroads, the 16-page opinion states.
Attorney Andrea Ritchie, who represents Adkins, celebrated Rakoff's ruling for advancing the rights of transgender people with the police.
"This is a significant victory - requiring heightened scrutiny of discrimination against transgender people in the context of police interactions is particularly significant given the pervasive harassment, profiling, discrimination, violence, and unsafe placement transgender people experience at the hands of police based on gender identity and expression," she wrote in an email.
She lamented, however, that Rakoff also found that it was not clear four years ago that transgender people belonged to this class.
"While it is disappointing that the court found that transgender people's right to be free of the kinds of discrimination Mr. Adkins experienced was not clearly established at the time of his arrest, allowing the officers that subjected him to discriminatory, degrading, and humiliating treatment to escape accountability, the decision is nevertheless historic in finding that the City of New York can be held accountable for engaging in a pattern and practice of discrimination against transgender people in police custody," she wrote.
Significantly, Rakoff allowed Adkins to pursue a claim of a so-called Monell liability, which punishes the city for allowing a policy or pattern of misconduct.
Adkins pointed to the NYPD's internal documents and reports by Amnesty International to show that his experiences as a transgender detainee were far too typical.
Referring to this finding, attorney Ritchie added: "We look forward to continuing to work toward justice and accountability for Mr. Adkins, and to ensuring that the patterns of police abuse reflected in his case are brought to light and addressed."
A New York City Law Department spokesman said, "We are reviewing the decision."
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