The NYPD has settled a lawsuit with a transgender woman who accused Bronx police officers of discrimination and harassment, closing one small chapter in a long-strained relationship between the police and the transgender community.
As part of the settlement, the NYPD will redistribute existing guidance on the rights of transgender people to the entire department reminding them of rules that went into effect in 2012, and officers in the 44th Precinct — where the incident took place — will be retrained. Among the rules are things such as a prohibition on searching someone to determine their gender. Officers are also not supposed to use discourteous language or use pronouns that do not correspond with a person’s gender identity.
The New York Civil Liberties Union and the LGBT and HIV Project of the ACLU brought the lawsuit last year on behalf of Linda Dominguez, a transgender Latina and advocate. According to the complaint, officers in the 44th Precinct arrested Dominguez in 2018 for walking through Claremont Park after dark. Dominguez gave officers her former name and her current legal name matching her gender identity. The officers charged Dominguez with “false personation,” which the NYCLU describes as “a crime which requires that a person have knowingly misrepresented their actual name with intent to prevent the police from discovering their identity.”
Dominguez said at least three officers also mocked her, insisted on referring to her with male pronouns, and handcuffed her in a holding cell using pink handcuffs.
“I never want anyone to go through the abuse I experienced from people sworn to protect me,” said Dominguez in a statement. “This settlement is an important step toward ending a culture of impunity and discrimination against trans people in the NYPD. As an advocate for my community, I couldn’t let this go.”
In addition to re-educating officers, Dominguez will also receive $30,000 as part of the settlement agreement.
The transgender community has been shining a light on discrimination and abuse by police officers for decades. This history and a culmination of lawsuits in the early 2000s are what resulted in the patrol guide violations laid out in 2012. Five years later, the City’s Department of Investigation issued a report that found officers were not being properly trained and the rules were not being properly implemented.
Lawsuits against the NYPD have continued. In 2016, the Legal Aid Society filed a federal lawsuit accusing officers of abusing a loitering law to wrongfully arrest transgender women of color for prostitution. The NYPD settled that lawsuit too and agreed to rules aimed at prohibiting the profiling of transgender women of color.
The NYCLU, and other advocates for the rights of transgender or gender non-conforming people, said incidents such as what happened with Dominguez are common across the city. The complaint accuses the The NYPD of “a long history of profiling, harassing, and abusing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, especially transgender people of color,” which advocates say continues despite policy changes on paper.
“What happened to Linda was 100% unlawful and wrong, and I don’t think they could ever make an argument that it wasn’t,” said Bobby Hodgson, a senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “It takes more than one lawsuit to change the culture of an organization like the NYPD. But it’s the constant pressure that has to happen in order to make things a little bit better on the ground right now.”
Police officials declined to comment on the case, or respond to the accusation that bias against LGBTQ people is widespread. They instead referred to a statement by the city’s law department.
“The steps the NYPD will take in connection with this settlement reaffirm the Department’s ongoing commitment to improving relations between the police and communities officers serve,” the statement read.
Mateo Guerrero, an organizer at Make the Road New York who works on homophobia and transphobia issues, said that while he doesn’t believe retraining officers, or redistributing existing policy, will have any effect on changing police behaviors, he does believe the settlement was important.
A short training on policies that have existed since at least 2012 will not change the mentality of a police officer who has grown up with transphobic or racist views, Guerrero believes, but he noted, “What will actually reduce discrimination is reducing the interactions between community members and the police.”
“I think it’s a very good first step that there is a settlement that acknowledges the discrimination that happened against Linda,” Guerrero said. “And I think that’s the most important and crucial piece for this.”
Guerrero said transgender women of color are frequently profiled by police officers as sex workers. But he said they have also been discriminated against when trying to report crimes or seek help from the NYPD.
“Even when they try to seek any sort of resources from the victims department from the NYPD, they actually receive no response, are misgendered, and do not receive interpretation into Spanish,” Guerrero said.
Make the Road has an open complaint against the NYPD with the City’s Commission on Human Rights related to the failure to provide translation services at the 110th and 115th precincts in Queens.