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ACLU-NJ sues Newark police for abuse of transgender woman

News release from the ACLU:

NEWARK – The ACLU-NJ today filed a lawsuit against the Newark Police Department in the case of Diana Taylor, a transgender Newark citizen tormented by officers who harassed her, falsely arrested her and threatened her safety. Filing its third lawsuit against the troubled department in as many years, the ACLU-NJ called for reforms of the department.

“The police did more than arrest me that day – they took away my rights, my dignity and made me afraid to walk down the street,” said  Taylor. “I’m fighting for something that’s easy to take for granted but impossible to live without – the freedom to be myself and to live my life in peace. I had always thought the police were here to protect me, and I don’t want to feel like I need protection from them instead.”

The harassment began nearly a year ago, when officers approached Taylor on the afternoon of March 23, 2009. They steered their cruiser into her path, taunted her about her hair, and demanded she show them identification. She didn’t have ID on her, but provided her legal name, Christopher Moore. “You’re right; I owe you 10 dollars.  It is a man,” one officer told the other, apparently settling a bet between them about Taylor’s gender.

The officers immediately began to torment her, calling her a “chick with a dick,” “faggot” and other derogatory names and mocking her with questions about her sexuality as witnesses gathered. Though she had committed no crime, police took Taylor into custody in handcuffs to the precinct. Police searched crime databases hoping they could find grounds to justify arresting her, but her record was clean. Police continued to humiliate her throughout the arrest, including frisking her in a sexually intrusive manner. A lieutenant who had discovered the situation told officers to let Taylor go, but when she asked to file a complaint, the lieutenant dismissed her concerns, explaining the officers didn’t mean her any harm.

The officers insisted on driving Taylor home, despite her protests that she lived only two blocks from the precinct and preferred to walk. During the short ride, the officers threatened to unleash gang members living in her neighborhood to confront her if she reported the abuse. Taylor refused to succumb to the intimidation, but it took weeks of trying and numerous phone calls to internal affairs to finally convince someone to take her complaint. Weeks after filing her complaint, however, she received a notice in the mail indicating that the police had cited her for “littering” and “disorderly conduct” – both of which she fought successfully in municipal court.

“The police should serve as a safety net against discrimination and harassment, not engage in it,” said Neil Mullin, an attorney with the firm Smith Mullin representing Taylor on behalf of the ACLU-NJ. “Diana Taylor deserves the dignity and the justice the law entitles her to, which is why the ACLU is fighting for her.”

The case is captioned Diana Taylor v. Newark Police Department, filed in Essex County Superior Court. The complaint alleges police violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by stopping Taylor from using public accommodations and retaliating against her when she asserted her rights; infringed on her constitutional rights to be free from unlawful searches; and broke laws against harassment and false arrest. The lawsuit demands that Newark establish proper training, supervision and handling of complaints, and seeks damages for the unlawful actions taken by the police.

Seeking to reform the Newark Police Department, which the ACLU-NJ has sued twice before since 2007, the ACLU-NJ called for the department’s leadership to discipline problematic officers, train officers comprehensively regarding sexual orientation discrimination, improve the department’s shadowy internal affairs division, and, perhaps most importantly, enlist an independent monitor with authority to truly scrutinize the department.

“This is yet another incident of police abuse to arise from Newark’s shortcomings in officer training and oversight,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "When will Newark’s leaders give police misconduct the attention and resources it deserves, what will it take to get there?”

In addition to Taylor, the ACLU-NJ currently represents clients in two other cases of abuse from the Newark Police Department. In June 2008, two young football players and their coach were abused in a traffic stop, and in 2007 a newspaper publisher was arrested until he turned over all copies of photographs taken for his publication, violating his free press rights. The ACLU aims to hold police departments accountable, and also has a long history representing police officers whose rights have been violated or who have tried to stop corruption as whistleblowers.

On Monday, February 22, 2010 the ACLU-NJ will host a “Know Your Rights When Stopped by Police” training for members of Newark’s LGBT community from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Liberation in Truth Social Justice Center at 11 Halsey Street in Newark.

Read the Diana Taylor v. Newark Police Department complaint online.

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