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Transgender IDOC inmate again sues Department of Corrections, asking to move to women's prison

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EAST ST. LOUIS — Strawberry (Deon) Hampton, the transgender woman who has sued multiple times the Illinois Department of Corrections for repeated alleged abuses, has again filed for emergency relief.

Hampton, who has identified as female since a young age, is currently being housed in the Dixon facility, her fourth in the last year, and regardless of where she has been housed, the abuses she has suffered have never really stopped, according to her lawyer, Vanessa del Valle of the MacArthur Justice Center. She is seeking immediate relief and transfer to a women’s facility.

In January, Hampton settled a case alleging extreme abuses at the hands of officers in the Menard Correctional Facility in Chester. She had been transferred there from Pickneyville where she alleged that guards routinely beat her and forced her to have sex with her cellmate for guard entertainment.

The original suit, filed in federal civil court, alleged violations of the Eighth and 14th Amendments, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Illinois Hate Crimes Act.

She alleged that the abuse continued after she arrived at Menard — routine harassment from guards and inmates caused what she and her legal team believed to be immediate danger to her physical and mental well-being.

“For nearly five months while she was housed at Menard, officers constantly verbally harassed Plaintiff and sexually and physically abused her—and had other detainees beat her—both because of her gender and in retaliation for complaints she filed against officers at Pinckneyville,” the introduction to Hampton’s amended complaint said. The complaint was filed Tuesday.

A settlement in the case was reached in January — Hampton was to be moved to a Lawrence prison where other transgender inmates are housed. De Valles said things did not get better at Lawrence.

“Despite IDOC’s representations, the situation does not get any better,” she said Wednesday. Hampton again opened a suit against IDOC and was again transferred, this time to Dixon.

De Valles said at Dixon, things got a bit better, at least for a little bit. She said they dropped their emergency injunction for relief because by all accounts Hampton was “no longer in crisis.” She was briefly taken out of segregation, where she had been placed for almost a year, and was attending therapy regularly. This didn’t last, though, according to her lawyer.

“As soon as we withdrew that motion things got a lot worse,” de Valle said.

“The officers started to escalate the harrassment, the verbal harassment. She was attacked by two male prisoners … and the officers were not doing anything to protect her from that harm.”

The amended complaint gave more detail as to the alleged abuses.

“As soon as Plaintiff withdrew her motion, Dixon staff escalated their verbal harassment and began to consistently call her ‘f--,’ ‘it,’ ‘he-she,’ and more. They made it clear that they would not protect her from other prisoners at Dixon, and that they would do what they could to get her transferred to a different men’s facility. Officers failed to protect Plaintiff from two different prisoners who sexually assaulted her and threatened to rape her.”

On top of this, de Valle said officers gave Hampton false disciplinary tickets. In one such incident, it is alleged that guards repeatedly maced Hampton only to write her a ticket for failing to cooperate. In June, she was also put back in segregation.

It was then that Hampton again attempted suicide, according to her lawyer.

De Valle said they are seeking a transfer to a women’s facility for Hampton. This was the original request but was compromised on when the deal was struck in January. However, de Valle said this will be the only way to provide more security for her client.

“As a transgender woman with mental health needs, Plaintiff is particularly vulnerable in a men’s prison. Her vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that her mental health has deteriorated significantly during her time in segregation while officers at these various men’s prisons are purposefully failing in their duty to protect her from harm and in fact are often initiating the abuse because of their hatred and animus towards transgender women,” the complaint said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also taken notice this year of the treatment of transgender inmates in IDOC. Earlier this year they filed a federal class action suit against IDOC for its medical treatment of transgender inmates.

The suit was filed in January and Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the Illinois ACLU, said this case is on track and is currently in the discovery phase of litigation

A judge set an evidentiary hearing for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 27 in East St. Louis.

"The Illinois Department of Corrections maintains a strict zero tolerance policy toward all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment," said Lindsey Hess, spokesperson for the IDJJ and IDOC. "While incarcerated within the IDOC, offender safety is paramount and all allegations of sexual abuse and harassment are taken seriously and investigated. The Department maintains 100% compliance with the national standards of the Prison Rape Elimination Act as determined by certified independent privately contracted auditors. The Department carefully considers housing assignments and the unique needs of offenders who identify as transgender."

isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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