The Allegheny County Police Department last week said it will implement LGBT-sensitivity training in response to concerns about the department’s misgendering of a trans woman who was allegedly raped by her cellmate in a county jail.
The department, based in Pittsburgh, provides law-enforcement services on the county-owned property and assists local police in 130 municipalities within the county. It has about 240 sworn officers and 50 civilian employees.
Superintendent Coleman McDonough told PGN the department is in contact with a local LGBT-advocacy group, Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, to help implement the training.
“As we move forward, we will work with local entities representing the LGBT community to develop policies and train our officers accordingly, so we can truly serve every citizen fairly, equitably and sensitively,” McDonough said in an Aug. 31 email.
Dena Stanley, a trans woman of color and Delta board member, said in a statement: “We are encouraged that the Allegheny County Police are willing to come together and learn about my community. It’s important that there be training and education as well as ongoing conversations with diverse people as they serve all.”
The issue arose after a transgender woman said she was raped inside the Allegheny County jail by her cellmate on July 17. An Allegheny County police criminal complaint filed in Pittsburgh Municipal Court against the defendant, Taylor J. Booth, identifies the alleged victim as “John Doe.” The document repeatedly uses male pronouns when referring to her, describes her as an “adult male” and refers to her female name as an “alias.”
Booth, 21, stands accused of three felonies and two misdemeanors, including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, unlawful restraint and indecent assault. He remains incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail and is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 20. His attorney, Brian M. O’Connor, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The victim, who couldn’t be reached for comment, was released from the county jail July 31 after Magisterial District Judge Mikhail Pappas revised her bail to “non-monetary,” according to published reports.
McDonough said detectives treated the victim with “tact and sensitivity,” adding: “We can always improve our performance. But I think it’s important to underscore the professionalism and commitment of our detectives as they sought to bring justice to the victim of a violent sexual assault.”
A spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality blasted the police criminal complaint.
“We too often see cases like this, where victims of violence are further traumatized by such grave disrespect,” said Mateo de la Torre, racial and economic justice policy advocate for NCTE. “Refusing to acknowledge the lived identity of a victim sows mistrust within the very communities police officers have sworn to serve. Police departments and courts should have clear guidelines to show respect for victims and witnesses to avoid adding insult to injury and undermining their own work.”
Dane Menkin, a trans advocate and clinician at Philadelphia’s Mazzoni Center, also expressed concern.
“Yes, [jail officials] made a mistake in putting [the victim] in the wrong housing,” Menkin told PGN. “Yes, they made a mistake in giving her a male roommate. Yes, the assault was horrific. But they just kept going after that. [The police] didn’t even get it down correctly on paper.”
Sara J. Rose, staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said misgendering trans people causes them harm.
“The victim has already been victimized once. To refer to this person with the wrong pronouns just causes them more harm,” she told PGN.
A spokesperson for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office said the office is taking steps to avoid similar misgendering in the future.
“We are in agreement that a transgender victim should be referred to by their preferred gender identification and that we will modify our training and policies to ensure that such occurs,” said First Assistant District Attorney Rebecca D. Spangler. “We continually work with our police partners to address concerns raised by our victim communities. This matter is being addressed with our attorneys to ensure not only correct gender identification in criminal complaints but in interpersonal interactions as well.”
Justin F. Robinette, a local civil-rights attorney, said he was “heartened” to know that police and prosecutors are working together to prevent similar occurences. “It’s an important step in ensuring that justice is administered properly in Allegheny County,” Robinette told PGN. “I also see it as an ethical issue. No attorney is permitted to discriminate or harass on the basis of gender identity. So let’s hope local authorities make the necessary changes moving forward.”