NEW ORLEANS — A federal lawsuit says a transgender inmate was raped by a male cellmate after being locked up last year in New Orleans' new jail — a $150 million facility that the local sheriff said would be a major factor in ending the violence that resulted in federal court oversight.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, says the transgender woman's sex is male "but she chooses to live as a female." She was arrested last September at age 19 for failing to appear in court on a misdemeanor disturbing the peace charge. Later that month, she was among inmates transferred to the newly opened Orleans Justice Center.
Her lawsuit claims she was put into a cell with a male inmate being held on an armed robbery charge, McArthur Mackey Jr., who raped her early on the morning of Sept. 21, 2015.
"At all times during the rape, Plaintiff repeatedly screamed for help, but no deputy ever came to the cell to investigate," the suit states, alleging that a deputy was not at his station at the time of the rape.
Online records show Mackey pleaded guilty to armed robbery last October. Criminal charges related to the jail attack were filed the following December. Mackey pleaded guilty to aggravated battery and misdemeanor sexual battery in a deal with prosecutors in June. He was sentenced to 10 years in the robbery, 12 years for the attack.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, alleges that deputies at the jail lack proper training and that "failure to separate transgendered inmates from the general inmate population" contributes to the risk of inmate violence.
"In general, males are housed with males and females with females," sheriff's spokesman Phil Stelly said in response to a query about policies on transgender inmates. "Gender identity is not considered for housing assignments, however, if a male has a strong female appearance, that person will be placed in protective custody."
Stelly declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing office policy against commenting on pending litigation.
Gusman has been under political fire and courtroom pressure for years owing to dangerous conditions at the jail, including beatings, sexual assaults and suicides. To settle a lawsuit he entered a reform agreement with inmate advocates and the U.S. Justice Department in 2012.
However, slow progress in reforms — even after the move into the modern facility — led the inmate plaintiffs, federal lawyers and the city of New Orleans, which funds the jail, to ask a federal judge to place the jail in receivership, relieving Gusman of his authority over the lockup.
Gusman avoided receivership by agreeing to cede authority to a court-approved jail "compliance director." Former Maryland corrections official Gary Maynard was appointed to the job and takes over next month.
In the new lawsuit, the plaintiff's lawyers say the old jail's problems persist at the new one, notably the lack of proper classification of inmates and a failure to separate violent inmates from vulnerable ones.