by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
On January 17, American Civil Liberties Union New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed a lawsuit against the Newark, New Jersey Police Department in the case of Diana Taylor, a Transgender Newark citizen allegedly tormented by officers who harassed her, falsely arrested her and threatened her safety.
The lawsuit marks the third time ACLU-NJ has filed against the troubled department in as many years. The organization is calling for reforms of the department.
"The police did more than arrest me that day - they took away my rights, my dignity, and made me afraid to walk down the street," said Taylor. "I'm fighting for something that's easy to take for granted but impossible to live without: the freedom to be myself and to live my life in peace."
Taylor says she always thought the police were here to protect her, but now feels "I need protection from them instead."
According to ACLU-NJ, the harassment began nearly a year ago, when officers approached Taylor on March 23, 2009. They steered their cruiser in to her path, taunted her about her hair, and demanded she show them identification.
Taylor did not have ID on her, but provided the police with her legal name, Christopher Moore.
"You're right; I owe you $10. It is a man," one officer told the other, apparently settling a bet between them about Taylor's gender.
From then on, the harassment increased.
The officers began to torment her, calling her a "chick with a dick," "faggot" and other derogatory names and mocking her with questions about her sexuality as witnesses gathered. Though she had committed no crime, police took Taylor into custody in handcuffs to the precinct. Police searched crime databases hoping they could find grounds to justify arresting her, but her record was clean.
Taylor says that, throughout her arrest, officers continued to humiliate her, including frisking her in a "sexually intrusive manner."
A lieutenant discovered the situation and instructed officers to let Taylor go. When she asked to file a complaint, the lieutenant dismissed her concerns, explaining the officers didn't mean her any harm.
Over her objections, the officers insisted on driving Taylor home. According to Taylor, during the two-block ride home, the officers threatened to unleash gang members living in her neighborhood to confront her if she reported the abuse.
Taylor refused to succumb to the intimidation, but says it took weeks of trying numerous phone calls to internal affairs to finally convince someone to take her complaint.
Weeks after filing a complaint, Taylor received a notice in the mail indicating that the police had cited her for "littering" and "disorderly conduct." Both charges she successfully fought in municipal court.
"The police should serve as a safety net against discrimination and harassment, not engage in it," said Neil Mullin, an attorney with the firm Smith Mullin representing Taylor on behalf of ACLU-NJ. "Diana Taylor deserves the dignity and the justice the law entitles her to, which is why the ACLU is fighting for her."
The case, Diana Taylor v. Newark Police Department, alleges police violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by stopping Taylor from using public accommodation and retaliating against her when she asserted her rights, infringed on her constitutional rights to be free from unlawful searches, and broke laws against harassment and false arrest. The lawsuit demands that Newark establish proper training, supervision and handling of complaints, and seeks damages for the unlawful actions taken by the police.
Seeking to reform the Newark Police Department, ACLU-NJ called for the department's leadership to discipline problematic officers, train officers comprehensively regarding sexual orientation discrimination, improve the department's shadowy internal affairs division, and perhaps most importantly, enlist an independent monitor with authority to truly scrutinize the department.
"This is yet another incident of police abuse to arise from Newark's shortcomings in officer training and oversight," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "When will Newark's leaders give police misconduct the attention and resources it deserves, what will it take to get there?"
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