Grandmother Locked in Jail Cell With 40 Men Can Sue Staff for Negligence

December 2, 2018 Updated: December 2, 2018

A federal judge in Florida has ruled that a lawsuit filed by a grandmother who was booked into a jail as a man may go ahead after the woman spent nearly 10 hours in a holding cell with male inmates.

Fior Pichardo de Veloz, a 55-year-old attorney, was arrested back in 2013 on an outstanding drug charge, and subsequently strip searched, revealing she was a biological female, the Miami Herald reported.

But Miami-Dade Corrections Department officials placed her in a holding cell after the jail doctor and nurse insisted Pichardo be booked as a man.

The ruling, made by Judge Frank Hull on Nov. 21, means that Pichardo is now eligible to pursue a trial against Dr. Fredesvindo Rodriguez-Garcia and nurse Fatu Kamara Harris, of the Miami-Dade Corrections Department. A federal judge initially dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that prison staff were immune from a civil lawsuit for negligence.

“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,” Judge Hull wrote in the unanimous opinion released Nov. 21.

Nothing Abnormal

Pichardo was booked at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, a female officer strip-searched her, according to the Miami Herald. The corrections officer later testified she “did not notice anything abnormal” about the detainee, who was issued an orange female jumpsuit.

At one point nurse Harris asked Pichardo whether she was a man because her file noted that she was taking hormone pills, the court said in a statement cited by the Miami Herald. Pichardo was under hormone replacement therapy at the time to help with menopause symptoms, according to the report.

Harris then allegedly repeatedly insisted Pichardo be classified as a man, the paper reported, despite all evidence pointing to her being a woman.

The nurse was reportedly “exposed to consistent and repeated information that Mrs. Pichardo was a woman” and “stubbornly refused” to confirm Pichardo’s gender, according to the report. She at one point took Pichardo to be checked by the staff doctor, who did not perform a physical examination to verify Pichardo’s sex, failed to ask about her gender or why she was taking hormone pills before classifying her as a man, according to the report.

Risk of ‘Serious Harm’

The doctor “knew that sending a woman to an all-male prison would pose a risk of serious harm to her safety, however, he took no steps to verify Mrs. Pichardo’s sex before re-classifying her as male,” the court said.

Several corrections officers allegedly voiced concerns about placing Pichardo in a cell with men, but were brushed off, the paper reported.

One jailer told the grandmother, “You are a woman. Good luck if you’re alive tomorrow,” according to the court statement.

Pichardo was remanded in a cell with about 40 men who laughed at her and yelled out “Mami! Mami!”

She was so afraid to use the toilet, “she urinated on herself instead,” the court said.

Male jailers allegedly mocked Pichardo and it wasn’t until her family came to the jail that she was removed from the male cell.

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