PITTSBURGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien filed a lawsuit today against Allegheny County on behalf of Jules Williams, a transgender woman who was repeatedly abused while incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ).
Williams endured sexual, physical, and verbal abuse during several stays at ACJ between 2015 and 2017. In 2015, she was housed with a male inmate, despite her repeated requests to be housed in a single cell, and was raped multiple times by the other inmate over four days.
“Ms. Williams has suffered trauma that few of us can imagine,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Her situation was completely mismanaged by administrators at the jail, and they must be held accountable. No one deserves to experience what she’s been through.”
Williams, who is 37 years old, has lived openly as a female since she was a teenager, and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognizes her as female on both her birth certificate and her state identification.
Along with the sexual assaults in 2015, Williams was also verbally harassed by jail staff and inmates, with insults that include “s/him,” “faggot,” and “freak show.” While incarcerated, ACJ staff denied her requests to be housed with other female inmates and forced her to shower in the presence of male guards and inmates. Williams is no longer incarcerated.
The complaint filed today states that ACJ’s refusal to house Williams with female inmates is the jail’s standard practice with transgender women at the jail, in violation of their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.
“The Allegheny County Jail’s practice demonstrates a callous disregard for human safety and dignity,” said Alec Wright of the Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien, who is representing Williams. “The warden and other supervisors at the jail are aware that this practice causes severe physical and emotional harm to transgender women at the jail, but they refuse to change it. The jail’s practice is quite simply unconstitutional and cannot stand in modern society.”
The lawsuit, Williams v. Allegheny County, was filed in the Court of Common Pleas for Allegheny County. Williams is represented by Sara Rose, Witold Walczak, and Dylan Cowart of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Timothy O’Brien, Margaret Coleman, and Alec Wright of the Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien.
The complaint is available at aclupa.org/Williams.