The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) announced Monday that it will place Lambda Legal client in Safekeeping as had been requested in an emergency motion filed earlier this month to protect her from further sexual assault and threats to her life. Passion Star is a transgender woman currently incarcerated in a TDCJ male facility.
“This is a tremendous relief for our client, who has been fighting for years for protection from horrific sexual and physical violence and constant threats of further assault and even death if she continued to speak out about the abuse she suffered as a result of her gender identity,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Jael Humphrey. “TDCJ has an obligation to protect people in its custody from sexual and physical violence without subjecting them to indefinite detention in isolation – a form of torture – if they complain about abuse. TDCJ officials over the years had repeatedly denied Passion Safekeeping, a program established to help protect prisoners vulnerable to abuse in the general population.”
Humphrey added, “We hope that Passion’s placement in Safekeeping will keep her safe as we continue to pursue her claim against TDCJ officials for damages from past assaults. At last Texas officials have taken appropriate and long-overdue steps to protect our client.”
In papers filed earlier this month, Lambda Legal argued that TDCJ should be ordered to take immediate steps to protect Passion, who in November was transferred to the Clements Unit, known for having some of the highest sexual assault rates in the nation. There she was placed in the general population, despite having been raped, physically assaulted, and threatened with murder in six previous TDCJ facilities where she similarly had been housed in the general population. Soon after she arrived, inmates told her she had to have a man or be raped and tried to lay claim to her as though she were property. As the daily threats continued and escalated, Clements Unit officials warned her not to file any more requests for protection. However, her situation became so desperate that on February 19 she again begged TDCJ staff to place her in Safekeeping. Lambda Legal filed an emergency motion on her behalf when TDCJ staff refused and instead placed her in a cell with a gang member who threatened to kill her if she continued to complain or “snitch.”
“Passion’s life was in imminent danger and, twelve years after the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, prison officials cannot pretend that they are unaware that LGBT individuals are vulnerable to sexual abuse when incarcerated,” Humphrey explained. “Rather than take Passion’s courageous requests for protection seriously, TDCJ staff moved her closer to the people from whom she sought protection and threatened to confine her in isolation if she complained. Today, Passion at last will get the respect and protection she has been fighting for.”
Now 31, as a teenager Star pled guilty to aggravated kidnapping based on allegations that her then boyfriend refused to return the used car they were test driving to the dealership, instead driving for several hours with the car salesman in the passenger seat and Star in the back. Star was sentenced to 20 years in prison and transferred to the custody of TDCJ where she has been housed in male facilities.
In the seven male facilities where she has been housed, male inmates have identified Star as feminine. She has been raped, forced to submit to undesired sexual acts to escape violence, and threatened with sexual assault. She has filed dozens of grievances, complaints, and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, TDCJ officials have told her to “suck dick,” “fight” or to stop “acting gay” if she does not want to be assaulted. In multiple prisons, Starr was placed in the general population in close proximity to inmates who she had identified as having threatened her, including one occasion in November 2013 where the identified inmate then attacked Star, calling her a “snitching faggot,” and slashed her face eight times with a razor.
In its original lawsuit, filed in October in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Lambda Legal cited the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed unanimously by Congress, that requires states to take measures to eliminate sexual abuse of people in custody and provides guidance on how to do so by, for example, screening and separating particularly vulnerable people, such as transgender women in male facilities, from likely aggressors. Then-Governor Rick Perry, however, dismissed the PREA standards as “ill-conceived” and decided to pass up funding for Texas that the Department of Justice had earmarked for the prevention of sexual assault in detention facilities.
The case is Zollicoffer a/k/a Passion Star v. Livingston. Information about the case is available here.
Lambda Legal attorneys Jael Humphrey, Paul Castillo, and Kenneth Upton are handling the case.