Grandma sues after being booked into an all-male jail because nurse and doctor ruled her to be transgender
55-year-old Fior Pichardo de Veloz claimed in her lawsuit that she was subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the US Constitution
A grandmother is suing after she was forced to spend nearly 10 hours in a cell at the all-male Metro West Detention Center in Miami-Dade County surrounded by 40 men after a medical gaffe resulted in a jail nurse and a doctor classifying her as a transgender.
According to the Miami Herald, the now-55-year-old Fior Pichardo de Veloz — who had flown into the country from the Dominican Republic to witness the birth of her grandchild — was arrested at the Miami International Airport on November 4, 2013 on an outstanding drug charge, with the arresting officer noting down her gender as a female.
She was booked at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center (TGK), and was once again processed as a woman.
Pichardo, an attorney and local elected official in the Dominican Republic, was even strip-searched by a female officer to ensure she had no contraband hidden in her body and was later given an orange jumpsuit meant for female prisoners.
However, her history of high blood pressure meant she was escorted to a medical unit for a routine checkup, where a nurse, later identified as Fatu Kamara Harris, noted the fact that the grandma had been taking hormone pills.
Harris asked corrections officer Audrey Morman if Pichardo was a man, stating that "male inmates take hormone pills to enhance their breasts." It was later revealed that the 55-year-old had indeed been taking the pills, but to help with the symptoms of menopause.
Harris then reportedly asked Pichardo about her gender, leading her to an examination room where Dr. Fredesvindo Rodriguez-Garcia asked her a series of questions about her medical history. Despite never watching her undress or asking her about her gender, Rodriguez-Garcia decided to reclassify her as a man.
Harris, who was not in the room when the examination was conducted, told Morman the grandma had male genitals, and despite the corrections officer's protests to her supervisor, they had no choice but to follow the doctor's orders and move her to the Metro West Detention Center, an all-male jail about seven miles away. The nurse also added a note on Pichardo's file that read, "Transgender, male parts, female tendencies."
The Miami Herald reported that Pichardo was placed in a large holding cell known as "Three Alpha Wing" where she was surrounded by 40 men who taunted her and yelled out "Mami! Mami!" She was so scared to use the toilet that "she urinated on herself instead."
The mistake only came to light after family members rushed to TGK and demanded to know why the 55-year-old had been booked into an all-male jail.
Staffers at Metro West then took her out for another medical examination, during which the grandma says she was laughed at by several male officers, before being transferred back to TGK.
According to WWLP, Pichardo subsequently sued the county and the jail staff for subjecting her to "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the US constitution, but the case would be thrown out by a judge who said jail staffers were protected from trial for negligence.
The 55-year-old finally received some respite after a federal appeals court reinstated the lawsuit and ruled that the conduct of both Harris and Rodriguez-Garcia, in the face of strong evidence, amounted to "deliberate indifference."
"Every reasonable prison officer and medical personnel would have known that wrongfully misclassifying a biological female as a male inmate and placing that female in the male population of a detention facility was unlawful," wrote Judge Frank Hull wrote in a unanimous 27-page opinion.
The ruling means that Pichardo can now pursue a trial against Dr Rodriguez-Garcia and nurse Harris. While an attorney for the county, representing the doctor, declined to comment, Harris’ lawyer did not return a request for comment.
A lawyer representing Pichardo said “we are pleased” with the decision.
“The opinion correctly held, as we believed, that the defendants could not be so struthious as to ignore the overwhelming evidence in front of them that Mrs. Pichardo was in fact female,” said lawyer Ryan Marks.