BENTON — During a preliminary injunction hearing Friday at the Benton Federal Courthouse, a transgender Menard Correctional Center inmate made her case for immediate relief, asking to be transferred to a women’s facility, while her civil federal case is litigated.
Appearing before Judge Reona Daily, Strawberry (Deon) Hampton told her story of alleged incredible abuses suffered by her at the hands of correctional officers in multiple Illinois Department of Corrections facilities.
The larger lawsuit filed in August contains more than 12 counts, including violating the equal protection clause, excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, and violating the Illinois Hate Crime Act. As a final outcome of the lawsuit, Hampton seeks transfer to a women’s facility where she said she would feel more safe, and also a jury trial for all applicable criminal offenses.
The abuse Hampton alleged she suffered, were, she believes, because of her status as a transgender woman. She told accounts of often being “gay bashed” and harassed for her gender status.
Hampton, who has identified as a women since the age of five, said guards at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center she was routinely abused both physically and verbally by her correctional officers during her stay there.
“They degraded me on a daily basis,” Hampton testified. She said officers regularly called her a “whore” “fa----” and a “n-----” They also intimidated her, Hampton alleged, into performing sexual acts on her cellmate while the officers watched.
Hampton recalled an incident where she and her cellmate were taken from their cell by officers — there are several pages of defendants named in the lawsuit’s complaint document which include the warden of Menard Correctional Center as well as a list of correctional officers — and told to dance for the men. She said she was also told to have phone sex with one officer and forced to put her mouth on the penis of another.
“It made me feel like a sex slave,” Hampton recalled.
After having enough of the abuse, Hampton said she decided to file a formal complaint. For this, there was a consequence, she said.
“I’m putting you whores in (segregation),” Hampton remembered being told, adding that the officer said this was because of her making it known she wanted to file a grievance under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
She said after she did not comply with removing the complaint, she was beaten by officers.
“I was punched. I was kicked. I was spit on,” she said. She remembered telling her alleged assailants, “Please don’t kill me.”
She said her clothes were cut off, along with parts of her hair, and some of her teeth were broken as part of the incident.
After Hampton was transferred to Menard, a maximum security facility, she said the abuse didn’t stop. Instead, the retaliation for filing complaints — of which she claims she has made hundreds — came with her.
The complaint document for the suit said that from her multiple grievances filed, Hampton was told an investigation into the events at Pinckneyville would be conducted. However, it said there is no evidence this ever happened.
Hampton testified that the verbal abuses did not stop when she came to Menard — in fact, five other inmates who lived in close proximity to Hampton corroborated her story. She said there were incredible bouts of violence, as well.
One incident allegedly occurred when Hampton was being taken for psychiatric care. She was put in a holding cell with a group of offenders she was supposed to be segregated from for fear of violence toward her.
She testified that one man, whose handcuffs were in front of him as opposed to the standard behind the back, began beating her and the guards stood by.
“They was laughing,” she said, as she “screamed for help." Instead, she said, the guards came in when another inmate tried to defend her and maced everyone involved. Hampton and the man who defended her alleged it was known the man who came after her was sent by officers in the prison.
She also said after getting what she believed to be a bug bite that caused swelling, she was taken by officers after several attempts to get medical care, and was, instead, brutalized. Several inmates — all of whom said they spoke voluntarily — said they saw Hampton dragged, half-naked, to and from her cell. When she was returned, they said she had bruises and extensive swelling, aside from that caused by her initial medical condition.
During cross examination by the state, Hampton resolutely denied ever identifying as a homosexual — she has always identified as a woman and is attracted to men. She also denied ever telling prison officials she was “OK being a man.”
“I identify myself as a woman just as you are,” she told the attorney.
Hampton has not undergone surgery for gender reassignment but, as was revealed during Dan Pacholke’s expert testimony, she has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and does undergo hormone therapy.
Pacholke, an expert in correctional security, said he believes Hampton’s placement in Menard is wrong. In fact, he said keeping prisons safe is all about knowing how to best sort inmates.
Testifying for the plaintiff, Pacholke said after reviewing Hampton’s background, including a history of being victimized in a juvenile facility, he thought the placement within Menard seemed “incorrect.” He said the Gender Identity Disorder Committee seemed more concerned with Hampton’s genitals rather than “her own concerns for personal safety.”
Pacholke also took a look at her disciplinary ticket pattern. He said he noticed an increase in tickets after her serious allegation was made against IDOC staff. When asked if he thought this was retaliatory behavior, he did not deny the possibility.
“It fits the pattern where some retaliation is involved,” he said.
Hampton also noted that she thought the increase in tickets after her complaint were retaliatory during her testimony. She said she felt it was a tactic by correctional staff to discredit her and intimidate her.
It was said multiple times throughout the hearing that Hampton and the other inmates testifying were scared of retaliation for their participation in the hearing. In fact, some said they were told not talk by guards.
“You better not run your mouth,” Edward Taylor testified he was told during an inmate count Friday morning.
“I’m in fear for my life being here today,” he said.
Hampton, who appeared via teleconference from Menard, spoke out several times during testimony that some of the defendants were indeed working as security officers outside the room where testimony was taking place.
The judge had Menard representatives call to ensure no one associated with the lawsuit was in the area where witnesses were testifying.
Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday, with the last of the plaintiff’s experts and several defense witnesses.
Michael Tarm of the Associated Press contributed to this story. This story has been updated from a previous online version.