Woman Mistaken for a Man in City Jail Sues Over Her Ordeal

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Jail guards somehow mistook a mother of four for a man and stuck her in an all-male holding area for two days, where inmates urinated on her shoes, exposed themselves to her and threatened her with rape, the Voice has learned.

Joan Gonzalez, 43, of the Bronx, repeatedly pleaded with correction officers to transfer her to a female jail, but they either ignored her, refused to believe her or verbally abused her, her lawyer Cynthia Conti-Cook says. Gonzalez is now suing the city over the bizarre mixup, which started when she was arrested for selling T-shirts without a license outside Madison Square Garden. She said in a deposition that she had to get counseling after her ordeal.

"I didn't know if I was going to get raped by those inmates, I didn't know if I was going to get beat up by those [guards]," said Gonzalez, who has two sons and two daughters with a former husband. "Oh my god, it was scary..."

By the time she got to Rikers, she had already been classified as male, was very upset, and was complaining to anyone who would listen. But jail officials at the Eric M. Taylor Center wrote in a medical screening form that she was in "good" shape and "alert." After a suicide prevention screening, officials wrote that she "appears OK."

Jail officials may not have followed Directive 4020R-A, which requires them to make "visual confirmation" of gender when detainees enter the system. "I kept pleading with them, 'Please check my ID, I'm a female," she said. "You're making a mistake. No officer tried to help me."

In response, according to Conti-Cook, the city has come up with a novel argument: that Gonzalez didn't have a constitutional right to be housed separately from the men.

Gonzalez was arrested Feb. 9, 2008 for selling T-shirts outside Madison Square Garden without a license, which is a violation, according to her lawsuit. While in NYPD custody at a precinct, she was listed as a woman and housed females. She was then ordered held on an old warrant and sent to the Tombs in lower Manhattan. She was sent to Bellevue, where she received treatment for high blood pressure and migraine headaches.

The mistake likely originated with the NYPD, because while the medical treatment form listed her as a female, the prisoner movement slip listed her as male, Conti-Cook says.

"Even so, the NYPD and the DOC are separate entities, and they [the DOC] should have done their own investigation," Conti-Cook says.

Back at the Tombs, she tried to leave an elevator car at the floor designated for female detainees. Jail guards wouldn't let her enter the floor. Instead, they took her to an area reserved for male inmates, and placed her in a cell with two guys.

She protested, "My name is Joan Gonzalez, and they made a mistake," she said.

She says that a guard responded, "Yeah right. Sit down and shut the fuck up."

After about an hour, she was moved to another holding area containing 15 men. The inmates, she claims, repeatedly called her, "faggot." She was moved again to a cell containing 25 other men. And the verbal abuse continued.

As soon as she once again complained about being held with men, inmates took out their penises and forced her to look at them. One inmate said, "I can't wait to get to Rikers and lock you in a bathroom." Other abuse was much more graphic.

She was moved to Rikers in a bus filled with men. She was handcuffed to male inmates. The guards continued to ignore her protests. More verbal abuse from inmates.

She was held through the night in jail for men in an intake area, where inmates urinated on her shoes.The guards were no help. One told her to "stop crying like a faggot because we don't have any room for transexuals."

She was put back on a bus, again handcuffed to a male inmate. Back at the Tombs, she refused to be strip searched by a male guard. But a female guard refused to do it.

"Please check my records," she pleaded. "Get me a doctor. I'm a female. I've been here two days already."

More verbal abuse followed.

Finally after resisting Gonzalez's requests, two captains took her to see a nurse. And guess what? The nurse verified that she was a woman, only after two days housed with men.


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