Trans Woman Sues to Compel NY Probe of Police Bias

(CN) – A transgender woman who says police hogtied her and exposed her to other abuses after she was arrested during a domestic dispute filed suit Monday to bring in New York’s big guns.

Represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union, Deanna LeTray says the ordeal began last year when Watertown police responded to a domestic dispute involving her daughter’s boyfriend.

LeTray claims that the boyfriend had pointed a gun at her but that her gender identity appeared to be a bigger concern for local authorities. Watertown, pop. 25,687, is just east of Lake Ontario, about 30 miles from the Canadian border.

“How long have you dressed like that,” she says one officer asked her before her arrest.

“Ms. LeTray experienced more discrimination and abuse at the precinct,” the petition continues. “Police officers violently grabbed and ripped her hair off of her head by force – for no reason other than to target her for her gender identity and expression. Ms. Letray’s hairpiece is a central part of her gender identity and expression. The officers then tied her feet together and her hands together in a position often referred to as being ‘hogtied.’”

LeTray says authorities then transferred her to the Jefferson County Correctional Facility where male officers forced her to strip naked.

“She was subjected to an invasive and unnecessary manual body cavity search during which male officers fondled her genitals and repeatedly probed her anus,” the petition states.

LeTray says she filed a complaint this past September to have the the New York State Division of Human Rights begin an investigation, only to have the office turn her down on administrative grounds.

“The Division does not have jurisdiction over the respondents because the respondent police and corrections agencies are not public accommodations under the New York State Human Rights Law,” the agency said, as quoted in LeTray’s petition. “The New York State Division of Human Rights lacks jurisdiction over these entities in regard to their performance of their functions.”

Fighting to have that determination reversed, the NYCLU’s executive director Donna Lieberman says the agency’s treatment of LeTray betrays its mission.

“Investigating discrimination and abuse allegations against public agencies like the police is exactly what the agency tasked with enforcing the human rights law is supposed to do,” Lieberman said in a statement. “The Commissioner should reassess and make clear that discrimination and abuse at the hands of police or in jails is under the purview of the human rights division.”

Filing its petition with the Jefferson County Supreme Court, the rights group wants New York’s human rights agency to resolve LeTray’s case on the merits.

LeTray said her lawsuit is about police accountability.

“I couldn’t believe that I was being treated like that by people in badges,” she said in a statement. “The police need to answer to somebody, but as of right now, there isn’t anyone holding this branch of government accountable. We are hoping to change that.”

The New York State Division of Human Rights, Watertown Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, who are all named as defendants, did not respond to requests for comment.

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