On October 4th, 2018, I was arrested for trespassing at Senator Jeff Flake’s office in Phoenix. The charge against me was later dropped. But while in custody, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office mistreated me and highlighted the urgent need for law enforcement to put policies in place to protect the rights of transgender Arizonans.
I was arrested along with three other women as we protested Senator Flake’s role in the contentious hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. We thought we’d be out of jail within a few hours, like other protesters had been in the past. However, we were not offered a bond and held at the Fourth Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix for nearly 24 hours.
Our lawyer thought it was strange that we could not post bond. He said in similar cases, protesters have posted bond and were out of jail within a few hours. We were arrested for committing a Class 3 misdemeanor, which is equivalent to jay-walking. There was no reason to hold us in jail before we’d even been given a chance to defend ourselves in court. I felt as though the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office were bullying us and trying to make examples out of us. Was it because they disagreed with my politics?
When we first arrived at the jail, guards told us we had to take a pregnancy test. I informed an officer in advance that I take two prescription medications. Soon, another guard approached me and asked why I take Estradiol—a female hormone. I answered that I take this medication because I am transgender. At this point, he said I had to go into the room with “the other transvestites.” I was startled by the use of this deeply hurtful slur. On top of that, I identify as a woman. I should be housed with women. But the guards didn’t care.
Later, a mental health specialist questioned me about my state of mind and whether I’d ever contemplated suicide. I told her I wasn’t depressed but that I was upset about being held in jail and the prospect of being separated from my friends because of my gender identity. About 40 minutes later, a guard escorted me down a hall, and told me I was going into isolation because I’m transgender.
"Why?” I asked. “I’ve already told two people at this jail that I’m transgender. I pose no threat to my friends and they are no threat to me!”
Just minutes earlier, the mental health specialist showed concern about my well-being. Now, they were going to separate me from my friends. If they truly cared about my well-being and mental health, they would not isolate me. It’s proven that isolation leads to serious mental health struggles for incarcerated people.
Regardless, I was put alone in a cell next to a man. All night, I heard the guards talking and the man next door screaming. I could hear the guards talking about how the man was acting crudely and urinating on the floor. It was a long night that left me feeling scared and alone.
According to our lawyer, the prosecutor argued in court that we should be sentenced to ten days in jail with credit for nine days served. This sentence would serve no purpose other than to make our criminal records more significant. Our lawyer said he had never seen an offer as extreme as this. Eventually, the prosecutor and judge accepted our request to be released on our own recognizance. At an October 19th court hearing, all our charges were dropped.
While it was a relief that our charges were dismissed, the way law enforcement treated me that night was incredibly disturbing. Research has shown that isolation of LGBTQ people in prison or jail can be psychologically harmful and physically dangerous. Guards also showed great insensitivity in their choice of words and their invasive questions about my prescription medication.
The Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office have an opportunity to learn from this experience. I don’t want anyone else to go through this. The departments should welcome representatives from the LGBTQ community to the table and have an open dialogue about creating safe spaces for us while in custody. I am certain that by working together we can find meaningful solutions.