Woman sues Florida jail after she says they booked her as a man

MIAMI — A woman is suing Florida jail employees after she said they forced her to spend hours in a cell with 40 men because staff thought she was transgender or a man.

The Miami Herald reported that Fior Pichardo de Veloz was in Miami in 2013 to see the birth of her grandchild. She was arrested on an old drug charge she said she didn't know was outstanding. She says jailers with the Miami-Dade County Corrections Department booked her in a cell for 10 hours with men.

WFLA reported that Pichardo was listed as female by the arresting officer. She was strip-searched and booked into Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center and processed as a woman. Because of her history of high blood pressure, Pichardo was taken to the facility's medical unit. The Herald reported that the nurse noted Pichardo was taking hormone pills and asked if she was man. Pichardo said no, but the nurse wrote, "Transgender, male parts, female tendencies."

“Every reasonable prison officer and medical personnel would have known that wrongfully misclassifying a biological female as a male inmate and placing that female in the male population of a detention facility was unlawful,” Judge Frank Hull wrote in a Nov. 21 appeals court opinion. The opinion allows Pichardo, now 55, to pursue a trial against Dr. Fredesvindo Rodriguez-Garcia and nurse Fatu Kamara Harris.

The court opinion said the doctor reclassified Pichardo as male without an exam. She was then transferred to the all-male jail Metro West Detention Center, where she was placed in a cell with about 40 men for 10 hours.

Pichardo’s family members went to Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, the only jail where inmates are booked and where Pichardo was processed as a woman. Staff realized their mistake when members of the family demanded to know where Pichardo was.

Pichardo is an attorney and local elected official in the Dominican Republic. The Herald reported she initially sued county and jail staff for negligence and "cruel and unusual punishment." The case was thrown out by a judge who said staff was protected from a trial for negligence.

Ryan Marks, Pichardo’s lawyer, told the Herald his client was pleased with the new decision.

“The opinion correctly held, as we believed, that the defendants could not be so struthious as to ignore the overwhelming evidence in front of them that Mrs. Pichardo was in fact female,” Marks said.