San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies called gay, bisexual and transgender inmates “sissies” and “freak shows” and denied them access to services given to other inmates, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday by civil rights attorneys.
Fifteen current and former inmates of the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga filed the class-action lawsuit against the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff John McMahon and several deputies.
The sheriff’s department said it had not been served with the lawsuit, and could not comment.
The lawsuit cites several cases in which gay inmates were allegedly denied equal access to drug rehabilitation and educational programs, as well as job training classes offered to their straight counterparts.
The inmates were given only limited time outside their cells and were unable to participate in work programs that would reduce their sentences, the suit alleges.
Inmates who self-identify as gay, bisexual or transgender are automatically segregated from the general inmate population in San Bernardino County and placed in an “alternative lifestyle tank” at the West Valley Detention Center, the lawsuit states.
Although “jails have an obligation to protect the safety of inmates who may be subject to victimization” and can place them in protective custody, jails have no right to subject gay, bisexual and transgender inmates to “significantly worse conditions … or subject them to abuse based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the lawsuit states.
“In the United States, we punish people because of the crime they commit, not because of who they are,” said Melissa Goodman, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, which filed the lawsuit along with the law firm Kaye, McLane, Bednarski and Litt.
“Imposing harsher penalties just because of who they are is illegal, and it’s unconstitutional,” Goodman said.
The suit seeks to require the sheriff’s department to “provide all inmates equal access and treatment to programs, as required by state law,” according to the ACLU.
A spokeswoman said the sheriff’s department would be unlikely to comment even after the suit is served.
“If we had been served we could not comment because it would then be pending litigation,” said Jodi Miller, a sheriff’s public information officer.
Source: Los Angeles Times