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Transgender woman sues Broome County sheriff, jail staff for discrimination

Updated: 4/5/22 – 1:32 P.M.

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — A transgender woman said she faced discrimination while in custody at the Broome County jail.

On behalf of Makyyla Holland, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), along with the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), and pro bono counsel Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, is suing Broome County, Sheriff David Harder and the jail staff.

Holland said she was put in solitary confinement, denied medical treatment, housed in the men's facility and harassed.

"They would try to show me their privates every day. Men who asked me to see my chest every day," Holland said in a video presented by NYCLU. "There's no one to be trusted, not even corrections officers. The people that you think you could trust."

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York argues Holland's rights were violated under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Americans with Disabilities Act, and other federal and state laws. It seeks compensation for Holland’s treatment while in the county’s custody.

WSKG spoke with Sheriff David Harder on Tuesday, about an hour after he was served. He could not comment on the lawsuit.*

The factors of mistreatment

Aside from the monetary compensation, Holland's attorneys hope Broome County will adopt correctional practices which better protect trans people's rights.

"There are a lot of factors that go into the mistreatment that trans people face in custody, particularly Black trans women, which Makyyla is," said Shayna Medley, TLDEF Staff Attorney. "There's certainly racism, sexism, transphobia. And a real just lack of training of the staff."

In a 2021 survey of trans and non-binary people incarcerated in New York state, all respondents who identified as women were held in men’s prisons.

Medley said without policies and proper training for correctional staff, trans people will continue to face high rates of violence and mistreatment.

"These things will just, you know, continue to repeat themselves."

Sheriff Harder said the jail abides by all rules and regulations held by the State Correction of Commission, and his staff is trained.

"It's not the first time we've had cross genders in the jail over the years," said Harder, but he added it is rare. He said procedures will be reviewed during this process.

A Landmark Settlement in Steuben County

A similar lawsuit filed against Steuben County ended in a landmark settlement in 2020, where the jail adopted policy, which provided specific guidance for corrections officers on how a trans person should be treated under the law. Because that case ended in a settlement, there was no court ruling that would directly impact Holland's case in Broome County.

"What it does do is very much lay the groundwork for what is required under the law. It provided a clear path for what Broome County should be doing, and what it is failing to do," said Bobby Hodgson, NYCLU supervising attorney.

The policy adopted in Steuben County addresses housing, provisions of medical care, and how to properly respect a person's gender identity, including not misgendering them.

A bill in the New York State Legislature would codify these correctional practices into law. The Gender Identity Respect, Dignity and Safety Act is still in committee.

*This article was updated to include Sheriff Harder's response.