Discrimination against transgender New Yorkers is pervasive despite NYPD guidelines, says NYCLU suit
NEW YORK — The New York Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU sued the NYPD today on behalf of a transgender woman who police arrested and charged with “false personation” after she provided the officers with both her previous and current legal names and explained that she changed her name to align with her gender identity. Linda Dominguez was also harassed by officers who repeatedly mocked her gender identity, despite changes to the NYPD’s patrol guide dating back to 2012 that prohibit such behavior.
“The NYPD must take responsibility for the culture of discrimination that pervades the department,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Being transgender is not a crime. The police’s own guidelines prohibit discrimination against trans New Yorkers, but clearly the NYPD is failing to make sure officers follow their own rules and honor the dignity of all New Yorkers.”
Linda Dominguez, who changed her name legally in 2017 to better align with her gender identity, was walking home from a bus stop through a park in the Bronx one evening in April 2018 when she was approached by three police officers. The officers were speaking to her in English, a language she knows very little of. They asked her name, and she gave her previous legal name because believed she was supposed to give that name. The police then arrested her for being in the park after hours and took her to the 44th precinct.
At the precinct Dominguez spoke with a Spanish-speaking officer, gave both her former and current legal names, and explained that she had legally changed her name recently because she is a transgender woman. The police placed her in a cell by herself overnight, leaving pink handcuffs on the entire time while officers repeatedly mocked her, calling her by male pronouns and by her former name. She was charged with criminal trespass and false personation — a crime which requires that a person have knowingly misrepresented their actual name with intent to prevent the police from discovering their identity — and was released the next day.
“As an advocate for my community, I could not let this go and allow police abuse against us trans women to continue. The police must be held accountable, and must learn to treat us with the same respect as every other human being,” said Linda Dominguez. A member of Make the Road New York, Linda is active in campaigns for the rights of trans and gender non-conforming immigrants of color.
More than six years after the NYPD instituted new guidance for interacting respectfully with transgender people, the department has not adequately trained officers and discrimination remains pervasive. Numerous surveys over the past several years have found that transgender New Yorkers report high rates of harassment by police, including a 2015 survey which found that 61 percent of transgender respondents in New York State experienced some form of harassment or mistreatment by police and 58 percent reported feeling uncomfortable asking the police for help if they needed it. A 2017 report by the city’s inspector general found that many police officers have not been trained on the revised rules and the department’s system for tracking complaints against officers is inadequate.
“It is hard to imagine the police arresting a white person for walking through a park, even if it were after dark. It is outrageous that a police officer not only did that, but then claimed a woman committed false personation simply because she is transgender and provided both her previous and current name. Unfortunately, though, it not surprising. Police misconduct toward LGBTQ people, especially trans women of color, has a long history in this city and this country, both before and after Stonewall,” said Gabriel Arkles, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU.
The 2012 revisions to the NYPD’s patrol guide required officers to refer to people by their preferred names and pronouns consistent with their gender identity, prohibited discourteous or disrespectful remarks about a person’s gender identity or expression, and specifically prohibited police from using the fact that a transgender person’s preferred and legal names might be different as evidence of a charge of “false personation.”
“The fact that Linda was actually charged with ‘false personation’ is absurd and outrageous, but it highlights how the NYPD continues to criminalize transgender people for existing,” said Bobby Hodgson, NYCLU staff attorney. “The NYPD must do more to ensure that officers are trained to treat transgender New Yorkers with respect.”