A transgender woman is suing the state of Maryland, saying she was sexually assaulted, denied medical treatment, and otherwise abused while incarcerated.
Chelsea Gilliam filed the suit Tuesday in federal court, The Baltimore Sun reports. The suit alleges that while in jails run by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, she was “housed with men, left unprotected from assault, harassed, held in solitary confinement, and denied necessary medical treatment.”
“I don’t want what happened to me to happen to any other trans woman in the state of Maryland,” Gilliam said at a news conference Wednesday, according to the Sun. “I want the state of Maryland to be held accountable for what happened and what occurred and the things that they let go on, day after day.”
Gilliam was housed at the Baltimore City Correctional Center and then the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center between December 17, 2021, and May 13, 2022. She had been arrested on an assault charge, for which she is now on probation after agreeing to a plea deal.
The suit says that while in the Baltimore facility, Gilliam was sexually assaulted by another inmate, and she knows of no action taken by corrections officials to address the matter. It also says she was forced to live and shower with male inmates, which goes against the corrections department’s policy and put her at risk of assault. Some guards did not allow her to shower alone even after she received official permission to do so, and she was denied hormone treatment there as well, she alleges.
At the other jail, she was placed in solitary confinement no reason, the suit says. She was allowed to leave her cell for only five hours a week, according to the filing.
“The lawsuit alleges cruel and unusual punishment under the 14th Amendment, gross negligence and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, naming gender dysphoria as a protected disability,” the Sun reports. Gilliam seeks punitive and compensatory damages and wants the corrections department to change its policies to assure respectful treatment of trans inmates.
Defendants in the suit are Carolyn Scruggs, secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, as well as others in the department, including both jails’ wardens.
A bill has been introduced in the Maryland legislature that would require prisoners to be housed according to their gender identity, but it has not advanced beyond committee, the Sunreports. Maryland currently assigns placement of trans inmates on a case-by-case basis.
Corrections department spokesman Mark Vernarelli, contacted by the Sun, declined to comment on Gilliam’s suit because it’s pending litigation. He said, however, that the department cares about “the protection of every single incarcerated person’s dignity and safety.”
“The department has met with advocacy groups and has tirelessly worked on the complex issues related to the transgender incarcerated population and is committed to updating its policies as necessary based on correctional and medical professionals’ recommendations to ensure the safety of everyone in our facilities,” Vernarelli added.