Suit: Michigan transgender inmate placed in cell with convicted rapist, sexually assaulted

Mark Hicks, The Detroit News
·3 min read

Mar. 3—A prisoner who is transgender is suing staff at the Michigan Department of Corrections after she alleges they forced her into a cell with a convicted rapist who sexually assaulted her less than a day later.

According to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, the inmate had a "medical detail prohibiting her housing with a non-gender dysphoric cellmate" at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, but staffers ignored it when assigning housing in January 2020 with "a known rapist and murderer imprisoned for life for killing a woman during sexual intercourse."

The prisoner, who is identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, protested, but a corrections officer threatened to write a misconduct ticket and place her indisciplinary segregation even as the cellmate started "intimating that he was going to harm Plaintiff and warning ... that it would be better for her to go to the hole," the document stated.

Although the inmate repeatedly relayed her concerns to multiple employees, none "took any steps to protect Plaintiff despite knowledge of threatened harm and risk of assault," and she again faced threats of discipline, the suit asserts. One of the staffers allegedly laughed when she overheard the cellmate's threats and complaints.

That night, the man raped the prisoner "with forcible penetration," her lawyers wrote. She sought help after he fell asleep and was treated at a hospital.

Days later, the prisoner "was assigned to a cell with another cellmate who self-identified as a rapist and was incarcerated for first-degree criminal sexual conduct," the suit claims.

She filed a grievance and a therapist's intervention allowed a move to protective custody, but staffers had her returned to the cell despite available single-person units and a deputy warden accused the prisoner of lying.

"That night, Plaintiff awoke to her cellmate sexually assaulting her," the lawsuit said. "Shortly thereafter Plaintiff transferred from the facility. Plaintiff, having suffered rape and sexual assault, became depressed and suicidal."

Reached for comment Tuesday night, Chris Gautz, a Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman, told The Detroit News "we do not comment on pending litigation."

The prisoner's lawsuit alleges department workers violated the Eighth Amendment since they failed to protect her and "acted with deliberate indifference by knowingly and recklessly disregarding the excessive risk to Plaintiff's health and safety, of which they were aware, resulting in Plaintiff's sexual assault."

The suit also claims the MDOC has a policy calling for "special management plans developed in consideration of specific factors to determine where to house transgender prisoners."

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages and punitive damages.

"Prisoners, regardless of their gender identification or sexuality, have a constitutional right to be safe from sexual abuse," Nakisha Chaney, an attorney who represents the prisoner in the case, said in a statement Tuesday. "MDOC failed to follow its own policies, clear national guidelines, and the housing plan that applied to our client. As a result, our client was raped."