A Miami-Dade County jail is facing potential legal action after two transgender women said they were mistreated and humiliated at the jail following their arrests at a Black Lives Matter rally.
Cellphone video from July shows Viola with their friends at the protest.
“Initially I think we can all say it was a very inspiring experience," Viola said. "Even through the rain, we were chanting, screaming our lungs out."
But that empowering experience escalated into something more humiliating and degrading. The trio said officers started using excessive force and Viola was pushed to the ground and tackled by two officers. Dramatic video shows the moment things took at turn at the protest.
More than a dozen people were arrested and all were transported to Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center when things during the booking process got worse.
“They had no idea to where to place me," said Gabriela Amaya Cruz, who is a transgender woman. "And when they said my legal name, I had to raise my hand, obviously, because it was me. And that's when it started to get like, 'That's not a woman, that's a man,' and that's when things got very transphobic."
Although Amaya Cruz is a transgender woman, her legal gender and name -- also known as her "dead name" -- are male.
“Then they blatantly just told me, 'You have a (vulgarity), you are a man, and we’re going to treat you like a man in here," she said.
Amaya Cruz said guards forced her to remove her hair and ping-ponged her between the male and female population.
“Erased. Dehumanized. Embarrassed," Amaya Cruz said. "They were saying all these things in front of everyone ... and they weren’t taking me serious. They made it seem as if I was playing dress up and in a costume. And it’s like, it’s not. This is my reality. This is how I live every single day of my life."
Amaya Cruz’s friend is also a transgender woman, but she had a different experience.
Unlike Amaya Cruz, Jae Bucci is legally a woman. She had her name and gender changed by the courts. But according to Bucci, jail guards dismissed it.
“They pretended like it didn't matter. Like my license was fake and they held power over state and federal law, even though the case they're going to send to the court is the one that approved my sex change," Bucci said.
Bucci says after guards learned she was a transgender woman, she was forced to strip for a search and then taken from the female ward to the male ward.
"They essentially said stuff along the lines of, 'We have the rule of the land here, federal and state law doesn't matter here,'" Bucci said. "I am a white trans woman, so in the back of my mind, I was like, this sucks and this is horrible and dehumanizing. But, in the back of my mind, I was also like, I can’t imagine how they treat Black or brown trans folk."
A spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department released a statement to NBC 6 that said the department "has procedures in place for the intake, housing, and medical needs of all inmates to include transgender inmates."
"MDCR is committed to the safety and security of our detention facilities and conducts requisite searches of inmates to mitigate the introduction of contraband. As such, items such as head coverings, wigs, jewelry, piercings, etc., where contraband can be hidden and/or are considered to be contraband, are removed from all inmates and examined during the search process. Items not considered contraband are returned to the inmate, while those items identified as contraband are stored in the inmate’s property," the statement continued.
MDCR also said in the statement that staff of the same gender are assigned to conduct the frisk or strip searches based on the self-identification of the transgender person.
"Additionally, all inmates are released with a unisex release uniform as their personal clothing has been placed into property. We are committed to ensuring that all inmates in our custody including transgender persons are treated appropriately throughout our intake, classification and housing placement process," the statement said.
The department also told NBC 6 that the protesters were in custody for only 6-7 hours and never made it to housing.
"It doesn’t matter if we do what we’re supposed to, state or federally, because they are going to treat us the same," Bucci said.
Bucci says she's hired an attorney to look into civil action against the jail and to handle the criminal case against a man that doesn't exist.