Trans Woman Sues City After Alleged Attacks at Rikers

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York
Outside of Rikers Island, where a trans woman said she was attacked three times in 2020.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

A transgender woman housed at a men’s jail on Rikers Island has sued the city, the Department of Correction, and two correction officers after she said she was brutally attacked three times and had to fend for herself when authorities ignored her calls for help.

Latee Brockington, 31, said the attacks started in June of 2020 at Rikers’ Anna M. Kross Center, where she was allegedly choked until she was unconscious and then raped by an inmate.

The attacks resumed in December of that year, according to the lawsuit. Brockington was threatened with a knife on December 9 before she said she was raped yet again by an inmate.

Later that month, on December 16, she was threatened with a scalpel and then choked and raped by an inmate, “causing her to sustain severe injuries” including “physical and psychological trauma,” according to the suit.

Brockington further accused jail officials of failing to intervene between the attacks and uphold their responsibility to keep inmates safe. Rather than addressing her safety, Brockington said the defendants’ “negligence, carelessness, and recklessness” left her with “physical pain” and “mental anguish,” including some injuries that are believed to be permanent, according to the suit.

At the time of the first attack, Brockington was on suicide watch because she was depressed after jail officials refused to transfer her to the women’s jail at Rose M. Singer Center, according to the New York Daily News, which first reported on Brockington’s case. An officer allegedly allowed an inmate into her cell, leading to the initial assault.

Brockington was subsequently moved to the women’s jail, but was eventually sent back to the men’s jail due to “security concerns,” according to records reviewed by the Daily News.

Records also showed that Daniel Morris, a jail staffer, acknowledged on December 4, 2020, that Brockington was “uncomfortable” about returning to the men’s jail, where she endured the first attack — but she was transferred back there anyway.

Just days later, she suffered the second assault  — this time in a shower — and the final attack took place in a holding cell, according to the Daily News.

In response to an email from Gay City News, a spokesperson for the Department of Correction asked to see a copy of the lawsuit but did not immediately provide a comment.

Brockington is represented by Marissa Mullen of Nass, Roper, and Levin, PC, according to the lawsuit. Brockington’s attorney did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

Brockington’s case coincides with a wave of violence at Rikers, where 15 people — including an out gay man, Esias Johnson — died last year. Johnson’s parents told Gay City News that their son was crying for help during the time leading up to his death in September. Johnson’s official cause of death remains under investigation, according to the city’s medical examiner. A captain and two correction officers were suspended as part of an investigation into that case.

“Inmates came forward saying he had been complaining of stomach pain for days,” Johnson’s mother, Tracy Johnson, told Gay City News in an interview on September 19. “Inmates said he had been screaming all night for help, and come morning time, he couldn’t get out of bed. He never got out of bed for breakfast.”

In the midst of the violence at Rikers, Governor Kathy Hochul drew concern from some public defenders last fall when she unveiled a plan to transfer hundreds of people — including cisgender and transgender women, trans men, and non-binary folks — from the city jail complex to facilities upstate to “help ease staffing concerns, capacity constraints, and improve safety for many until the city can implement a permanent solution.”

In 2019, Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman, died in her cell at the Rose M. Singer Center after guards neglected her during what turned out to be a fatal medical emergency. That case culminated in the suspension of 17 correction officers as well as a $5.9 million settlement for Polanco’s family.

Last month, Governor Kathy Hochul unveiled her State of the State agenda and vowed to support legislation to improve conditions for trans inmates across the state. Three LGBTQ groups — Equality New York, New Pride Agenda, and the LGBT Community Center — are urging state lawmakers to pass the Gender Identity Respect, Dignity, and Safety Act, which would establish proper treatment and placement of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary individuals in state and local correctional facilities.