WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A transgender Watertown woman has filed a federal lawsuit against Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen O’Neill, Watertown police chief Charles Donoghue and others, claiming she was improperly arrested, and then harassed and sexually assaulted.
DeAnna LeTray, 54, claims in the lawsuit that the abuse took place because she is a transgender woman.
“I never want anyone to go through the abuse I experienced from people that were supposed to protect me,” she said in a statement.
“Watertown law enforcement and Jefferson County Jail staff must be held accountable for their actions. The abuses that police and jail staff across New York state commit against transgender New Yorkers must end.”
The lawsuit was filed Monday in federal district court in Syracuse. It is LeTray’s latest attempt to hold law enforcement accountable for what she claims happened on September 28, 2017. An earlier effort to get the state’s Division of Human Rights to investigate failed.
LeTray claims that when police were called to a domestic incident involving members of LeTray’s household, a Watertown police officer made disparaging remarks about her gender identity and stated that he arrested her because “we can’t let you walk the streets looking and dressed like that,” dressed like a woman.
LeTray was charged with criminal mischief, 4th degree and because a small amount of the street drug “molly” was found in her purse, criminal possession of a controlled substance, 7th degree. The charges were later reduced to violations.
The lawsuit claims at the police station officers ripped off LeTray’s hair, as they considered her “a man dressed as a woman,” and later at the jail she was stripped naked and subjected to an invasive cavity search.
The suit argues that, in addition to targeting LeTray for discriminatory treatment based on her gender identity, the jail has an unconstitutional policy mandating strip searches for all people brought in by the police, regardless of whether such a search is justified.
“Jefferson County and the City of Watertown’s policies subject every person arrested and detained by the Watertown City Police to a degrading and humiliating strip search before they have ever been in front of a Judge” said Josh Cotter, staff attorney at Legal Services of Central New York.
As a result of her treatment, LeTray claims, she suffers from “severe anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and panic attacks.”
The lawsuit seeks money - the amount to be determined at trial - correcting the various police and jail records to “properly identify Ms. LeTray as a woman, not a man” and deleting her booking photo, which showed LeTray without her hairpiece.
Besides O’Neill and Donoghue, the suit names as defendants Jefferson County, the City of Watertown, city police sergeant George Cummings, officers Samuel White and Virginia Kelly, now-retired jail administrator Kristopher Spencer, jail employee Joel Dettmer and four people identified only as “John Does 1-4.”
Neither the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department nor the Watertown Police had any comment Tuesday morning. We reached out to city attorney Robert Slye for comment as well; if we hear back from him we’ll update this story.