Fior Pichardo de Veloz, a grandmother arrested in Miami, suffered a serious indignity at the hands of the Miami-Dade County Corrections Department: jailers booked her as a man and she spent nearly 10 hours in a holding cell surrounded by leering inmates.
Her shame was compounded when a federal judge threw out her lawsuit, saying the jail staffers were protected from a trial for negligence.
But clearly disturbed by the outrageous mistake, a federal appeals court this month reinstated the lawsuit against the jail doctor and nurse who insisted jail officers book Pichardo as a man — even though a strip search had already shown she was a woman.
“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 Frank Hull wrote in the unanimous opinion released Nov. 21.
The decision means that she can now pursue a trial against Dr. Fredesvindo Rodriguez-Garcia and nurse Fatu Kamara Harris. An attorney for Miami-Dade County, which is 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 court’s 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.
The 27-page opinion, which also relies on jail internal affairs documents, offers damning never-before-publicized details about Pichardo’s ordeal in the Miami-Dade Corrections system
Pichardo, now 55, is an attorney and local elected official in the Dominican Republic. Pichardo had come to Miami in 2013 to witness the birth of her grandchild when she was taken into custody on an old drug case she didn’t know was outstanding.
She was arrested at Miami International Airport on Nov. 4, 2013. From the start, the evidence was clear that she was a woman — the arresting officer listed her gender as female.
At the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, the only jail where inmates are booked, she was processed as a woman. At 7:17 p.m. a female officer strip searched her, examining her private areas to make sure she had no contraband hidden on her body.
The officer later testified she “did not notice anything abnormal” about Pichardo, who was given an orange female jumpsuit, according to the opinion.
Because of her history of high blood pressure, Pichardo was escorted to the medical unit for what was supposed to be a routine checkup.
It was at that moment that Harris, the nurse, asked corrections officer Audrey Morman whether Pichardo was a man. The reason: Pichardo’s file noted she was taking hormone pills.
The nurse told the jailer that sometimes “male inmates take hormone pills to enhance their breasts.” Pichardo was indeed undergoing hormone replacement therapy — but to help with symptoms of menopause, something that’s common for women in their 50s, the court noted.
Harris walked over to Pichardo and asked her about her gender. Baffled, Pichardo said she was a woman.
At 2 a.m., Harris led Pichardo to an exam room, but left before the doctor saw the inmate. Dr. Rodriguez-Garcia came in but never had Pichardo undress, instead asking a series of questions about her medical history. But he never asked her “if she was a woman, a man or transgender,” or why she was on hormone pills.
Without ever doing a physical examination, Rodriguez-Garcia decided to reclassify her as a man.
Even though Harris, the nurse, was not in the exam room, she inexplicably told the jail officer that the exam had revealed “everything fell out” — meaning, Pichardo’s supposed male genitals had been discovered. Officer Morman protested, even calling her supervisor. But the officers had no choice but to go on the doctor’s orders.
The nurse added a note to Pichardo’s file: ”Transgender, male parts, female tendencies.”
Another concerned officer, Kimberly Jones, asked the nurse three times whether she had physically examined Pichardo’s private parts. The nurse brushed her off. “Nurse Harris simply replied, ‘She’s a man’ and walked away.”
Hours later, past noon the day after she was first arrested, Pichardo arrived at the Metro West Detention Center, an all-male jail about seven miles away. Pichardo insisted to an officer she was a woman. “You are a woman. Good luck if you’re alive tomorrow,” the officer replied, according to the opinion.
She was placed in a large holding cell known as Three Alpha Wing. She was surrounded by about 40 men, some of whom laughed and yelled out “mami! mami!” She was so afraid to use the toilet that “she urinated on herself instead,” the opinion said.
Jailers did not realize the mistake until her family members rushed to TGK, then demanded to know why Pichardo had been booked into a male jail. Over at Metro West, staffers took her out of the holding cell for a new examination.
She recalled several male officers laughed at her during the examination. She remembered someone took a photo of her while she was undressed. A nurse immediately realized the mistake — and Pichardo was soon transferred back to TGK.
A traumatized Pichardo later sued the county and jail staff saying she had been subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The appeals court ruled the conduct of the nurse and doctor, in the face of strong evidence that Pichardo was a woman, amounts to “deliberate indifference.”
Harris was “exposed to consistent and repeated information that Mrs. Pichardo was a woman” and “stubbornly refused” to confirm Pichardo’s gender. As for the doctor, he “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.”