ATLANTA - A transgender woman held in a Georgia men’s prison says she has been sexually assaulted repeatedly and denied necessary medical treatment and that prison officials retaliated against her after she filed complaints and a lawsuit.
Lawyers for Ashley Diamond asked a federal judge in court filings Friday to order prison officials to transfer her to a women’s prison to keep her safe from sexual victimization by male inmates, to provide her with medical treatment necessary for her gender dysphoria and to stop retaliating against her, among other things. Retaliation by prison officials includes unwarranted discipline reports and falsification of her records that has resulted in her release from prison being delayed, the filings say.
Her lawyers say she has experienced physical and mental trauma that have left her feeling hopeless and resulted in multiple attempts at suicide and self-castration.
A Department of Corrections spokeswoman did not immediately respond Friday to an email seeking comment.
Diamond, 43, has identified as female since she was a child and began hormone therapy when she was 17, giving her full breasts, softer skin and a feminine appearance, according to court filings.
The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center in November filed the federal lawsuit for Diamond, who is imprisoned at Coastal State Prison in Chatham County. Diamond previously sued Georgia corrections officials in 2015 over similar allegations during a previous term of incarceration.
Since her most recent imprisonment began in October 2019, Diamond has been sexually assaulted and abused 16 times, including three instances involving prison staff, her lawyers say. In a sworn statement submitted to the court, Diamond provides harrowing details of alleged attacks.
The Associated Press doesn’t generally identify victims of sexual assault, but Diamond has repeatedly come forward publicly to put a spotlight on the treatment of transgender people in prison.
After she filed complaints, prison officials filed an "avalanche of disciplinary reports" against her without merit and didn’t give her adequate opportunity to defend herself, Diamond said. One high-ranking official told her after she filed her lawsuit that he would make sure she stayed in prison longer, she said. That resulted in her parole release date being pushed back from March of this year to April of next year, with the parole board citing her "institutional conduct," she said.
"I carry so much trauma that it is hard for me to get through the day. I have panic attacks that make it difficult to even breathe. The sound of doors opening and closing, keys clanking, or footsteps approaching makes my heart race and my palms sweat. I have trouble sleeping because of my anxiety and nightmares," Diamond said in her statement.
A friend who stayed with her after discovering her in distress after a suicide attempt was later punished by guards, who falsely claimed the two had engaged in sexual conduct, the friend said in a statement submitted to the court. A prison official repeatedly tried to pressure the friend to file a sexual assault complaint against Diamond and left him in solitary confinement when he refused, the statement says.
Diamond’s lawyers are asking a judge to order prison officials to move her to a women’s prison, allow her to shower privately, keep her from being strip searched by male officers and provide her with necessary treatment for gender dysphoria. They also ask the judge to order prison officials not to retaliate against Diamond or other witnesses and not to take action against her based on false designations of her as a sexual aggressor and dangerous prisoner.
Shortly after Diamond’s previous lawsuit was filed, the U.S. Department of Justice got involved, filing a brief that said prison officials must treat a gender identity condition just as they would treat any other medical or mental health condition. The filing said the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires individualized assessment and care for the condition.
Georgia prison officials then implemented a policy to ensure that prisoners with a possible gender dysphoria diagnosis are evaluated by qualified medical and mental health professionals, including an assessment of treatment and experiences before entering prison. The policy also said a treatment plan would be developed to address physical and mental health.
Diamond was paroled in August 2015 after serving about a third of her 12-year sentence for burglary and other convictions, according to prison records. She settled her lawsuit against the state in February 2016.
Diamond was sent back to prison on a parole violation in October 2019.
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