A transgender woman has sued the North Bergen Police Department and a transgender man has sued the Jersey City Police Department, both claiming they were discriminated against and harassed because of their gender identity.
On Sept. 7, 2013, Amira Gray, 26, of Maryland, who is a fully transitioned transgender woman, was pulled over on Paterson Plank Road by North Bergen Police Officer Alberto Berovides.
After reviewing her paperwork, the officer asked “What’s your name?” and Gray answered “Mario Haywood,” her given name, the lawsuit says.
The officer told Gray her license was suspended and he returned to his car for a long period, during which time Gray called authorities in Maryland, New York and New Jersey, all of whom said her license was in good standing, Gray says in the lawsuit.
When the officer returned to Gray’s car, Gray called the Maryland Motor Vehicle Authority with the phone set on speaker so Berovides could hear and was again told her license was in good standing, the lawsuit says.
The officer told her to get out of her car and a tow truck arrived, but Gray called North Bergen police and said she did not feel comfortable with Berovides, so a second officer was dispatched.
The second officer was laughing when he approached her car. When she asked why he was laughing, he stopped laughing. Gray went on to say that Berovides “has a problem with the way I live,” the suit says.
The two officers again told Gray to get out of the car because her license was suspended, but she refused and a sergeant arrived. While speaking within earshot of Gray, the second officer told the sergeant, “I told (Berovides) to just give her a warning for tinted windows and let her go,” the lawsuit says.
Gray told the sergeant she did not “feel comfortable with Officer Berovides” and the sergeant ordered Berovides to stay in his car. Gray was then placed in the back seat of the second officer’s car, where she began having difficulty breathing and an ambulance was called, but Gray opted not to go to the hospital.
Her car was towed away and the sergeant drove Gray to the self-storage facility she had been heading to,” the suit says.
Gray, who then took a car service to Newark and a train to Maryland, was charged with driving with a suspended license, a safety glass violation and having unclear plates. On Oct. 7 Gray reported to North Bergen Municipal Court, where she was found not guilty of driving with a suspended license and not guilty of the safety glass charge.
She pleaded guilty to the license plate violation and paid a $54 fine, the suit says.
In the Jersey City case, Shakeem Malik Holmes, 31, is suing the Jersey City Police Department and unnamed officers over an incident on Aug. 15, 2012, the lawsuit says.
Holmes, who had already legally changed his name from Malika Sakinah Holmes to Shakeem Malik Holmes, was in the process of transitioning from female to male when he was at the police department’s Bureau of Criminal Identification that day.
Through his attorney, Holmes declined to say why he was detained that day. Records pertaining to an arrest were unavailable.
Holmes was placed in a male holding cell, but when a check of his fingerprints came back under his given name, an officer screamed “Who is Malika Holmes?” according to his lawsuit.
Holmes began nervously shaking his head and motioned for the officer to lower his voice as he would be have been humiliated if others in the cell learned of his transgender status, he said in the suit.
When the officer accused him of given false information, Holmes asked if they could speak privately and was told “This is privately,” the suit said. Even after Holmes explained the situation, the officer said “Did you have surgery down there yet? … So you’re actually a woman? I have to put you with the females because that’s what you are,” the lawsuit says.
Holmes explained that he should be placed in a cell by himself, but a few minutes later a woman was also placed in the cell.
His lawsuit says that over the course of two hours, officers walked past the cell staring at Holmes and making derogatory remarks. One sergeant said “Next time you come in here and you want to be treated like a man, I’ll put my fist down your throat like a f—— man,” the suit says.
Both plaintiffs seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, costs and attorney fees. We hope both plaintiffs win.