A Latina transgender woman has sued the New York Police Department after three of its officers arrested her for “false personation” last year when she gave them both her former and current names during questioning.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Linda Dominguez, alleges that Dominguez was walking home from a bus stop the night of April 18 when she cut across Claremont Park in the Bronx, which was the most direct route to her apartment. The lawsuit claims that, even though others who disembarked from the bus used the park, which is closed at night, as a route home, Dominguez was the only one stopped and questioned.
Walking through the closed park constituted criminal trespass, the ACLU acknowledges. The civil rights organization argues, however, that the police department’s enforcement of that crime and other low-level criminal offenses is “overwhelmingly and disproportionately targeted at black and Latinx people like Linda.”
Dominguez, who speaks limited English, gave the officers her birth name when questioned in the park. That name was withheld from the lawsuit because Dominguez does not want to be referred to by her former name.
“The officers continued to speak to her only in English, but she understood that they asked her for her name. The officers did not give any information about the consequences of sharing an incorrect name,” the lawsuit reads. “Ms. Dominguez had been arrested in New York City before. At that time, even though she had already completed a legal name change and gave her current legal first name to the police, the police still used her previous legal first name, including on paperwork associated with that arrest. Because of that history, Linda believed she was obligated to share her previous legal first name with police.
“Therefore, in the park on April 18, she answered the officers with her previous legal first name, as well as with her last name, which had not changed.”
Dominguez told the New York Daily News through an interpreter that the encounter started out fine.
“In the park, the conversation was fine, even friendly,” she told the Daily News. “But then once I asked them if I was going to be arrested, and they said ‘yes’ and they put (metallic-colored) handcuffs on me and brought me to the precinct where my hell began.”
‘I felt like they were making fun of me’
Once at the 44th Precinct, an officer spoke to Dominguez in her native Spanish, at which time Dominguez explained that she was transgender and had legally changed her name to Linda. She gave the officer both names, along with her last name, date of birth and home address, which were all accurate, the ACLU said in a news release.
“Things got worse from there,” the news release states. “The officer who had arrested Linda placed her in a part of a cell that was separated from other people. She cuffed Linda to a bar in the cell using pink handcuffs. Around her, Linda saw other people being placed in cells. None of them, however, were cuffed inside the cells, and none of them were in pink handcuffs.
“While other people who were arrested were referred to by their last names, the officers repeatedly and mockingly called Linda by her old first name. Officers repeatedly gestured at Linda while joking, laughing, and shooting disgusted looks at her.”
Read the entire lawsuit filed on Dominguez’s behalf by the ACLU below.
Dominguez said despite the language barrier, she sensed she was being ridiculed.
“I could barely understand anything, but I felt like they were making fun of me because there was no one else there for them to be making fun of,” she told the Daily News.
Dominguez was held in the pink handcuffs overnight, learning the charges against her only when she was taken to court the following morning, the lawsuit states. Besides the criminal trespass charge, Dominguez was also charged with false personation.
New York law defines false personation as “when, after being informed of the consequences of such act, (a person) knowingly misrepresents his or her actual name, date of birth or address to a police officer or peace officer with intent to prevent such police officer or peace officer from ascertaining such information.” It is a Class B misdemeanor.
“Officer Megan Francis signed the criminal complaint, in which she referred to Ms. Dominguez as ‘he’ rather than she, despite knowing she was a transgender woman, and which did not include any reference to the explanation Linda provided for giving NYPD officers both her previous legal name and her current legal name,” the lawsuit states.
‘It’s hard to imagine the police arresting a white person for walking through a park’
Both the trespass charge and the false personation charge were dismissed four months after Dominguez’s arrest. The case was also sealed so Dominguez, a legal permanent resident of the U.S., could apply for citizenship sooner, the lawsuit states.
The arrest has left her with a lingering fear of police officers, according to the ACLU.
The lawsuit, which accuses the officers and the department of malicious prosecution, states that the alleged abuse and harassment violates a number of state and local civil rights laws put in place to protect transgender people.
“It is hard to imagine the police arresting a white person for walking through a park, even if it were after dark,” Gabriel Arkles, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU, told the Daily News. “It is outrageous that a police officer not only did that, but then claimed a woman committed false personation simply because she is transgender and provided both her previous and current name.”
The ACLU claims the police department has known for decades about incidents like what happened to Dominguez. A series of patrol guide provisions were handed down in 2012 to protect transgender people who are in contact with police officers -- including a specific provision prohibiting charges of false personation based on confusion over a transgender person’s former and current names.
“The policy changes look good on paper but, as Linda’s case illustrates, they have not translated into necessary changes on the ground,” the ACLU news release states.
Besides malicious prosecution, the lawsuit alleges that the officers involved discriminated against Dominguez in violation of state human rights and civil rights laws and used bias-based profiling in violation of New York City’s Community Safety Act. It also alleges violation of the state constitution and negligent training and supervision.
The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as statutory penalties against the defendants for the violations of state civil rights laws. It also seeks a declaration that the defendants violated the city’s Community Safety Act.
A New York Police Department spokeswoman would not comment on specifics of Dominguez’s case, but defended the department’s efforts to meet the needs of the LGBTQ community.
“The NYPD will continue to communicate and collaborate with the LGBTQ community as we seek to further strengthen our relationship with all of the communities throughout the city that we protect and serve,” the spokeswoman told the Daily News.
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