Friday, March 31, 2006

Arrested justice: When LGBT people land in jail - PlanetOut

Recent coverage of the Sundstrom case and treatment of transgender individuals in prison...

by Patrick Letellier

Kari Sundstrom, a 41-year-old transgender woman, had been on female hormones for 15 years when, in January, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a law banning hormone treatments or sex reassigment surgery for prison inmates. This meant Sundstrom, incarcerated since 2003, would have to discontinue her hormone therapy.

On Jan. 12, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections cut Sundstrom's hormone dosage in half. Officials notified her it would be halved again in 30 days, and, 30 days later, terminated.
Suddenly stopping hormone therapy can be calamitous for transgender people, causing, among other possible problems, diabetes, hypertension, muscle wasting, osteoporosis and heart failure. It can also lead to self-mutilation and suicide attempts.The effects on Sundstrom were almost immediate. She suffered severe headaches, hot flashes, crying jags and was afraid she'd become suicidal.

Another transgender woman in the same prison, Andrea Fields, experienced depression, nausea, muscle weakness and developed bumps on her skin when her hormones, too, were suddenly reduced.The women's concerns became part of a lawsuit challenging the new Wisconsin law, which led to their hormone therapy being restored two weeks later. A federal judge ruled that while the courts sorted out whether or not the law was constitutional, Sundstrom, Fields and a third woman named in the suit, Lindsay Blackwell, would be allowed to continue their hormone therapies.

"This treatment has been determined by doctors to be medically necessary and appropriate for our clients," said Cole Thaler, Lambda Legal's attorney representing the women. Prohibiting such treatment shows a "deliberate indifference to their serious medical condition," Thaler says.
That "deliberate indifference" to the well-being of transgender inmates, however, extends far beyond health care. Transgender inmates are among the most reviled and abused individuals in America's jails and prisons, activists say, facing an unimaginable array of harassment and violence at each level of the criminal justice system that often begins with abuse from police officers on the street.

According to a 2005 Amnesty International report on police violence, transgender people, especially those who are poor or of color, are subject to the "most egregious cases of police brutality," from sexual harassment and invasive body searches to physical and sexual violence and false arrests, often for merely going about their daily lives. Transgender women in particular face arbitrary abuse and arrest, Amnesty reported, because they are frequently profiled by the police as sex workers.

"Their gender is seen as part of their criminality," says Dean Spade, an attorney with New York's Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which advocates on behalf of LGBT inmates. As a result, Spade says, transgender people disproportionately end up behind bars, where violence against them often continues unabated.In all state prisons and the vast majority of county jails, transgender inmates are housed according to their birth gender, regardless of how they currently identify. Sundstrom, Fields and Blackwell, for instance, are all housed in men's prisons, despite living as female for up to 15 years, taking hormones and having had feminizing surgeries, including, in Fields' case, breast augmentation.

"Once you're in custody, you're no longer the person you say you are," says Alex Lee, an attorney with the Transgender, Gender Variant & Intersex Justice Project in Oakland, Calif., which advocates for transgender inmates. "Instead, you are your birth certificate."

In men's facilities, transgender women are often immediately targeted by sexual predators, including some guards. Countless transgender inmates have reported sexual harassment, rape and forced prostitution in American jails. Transgender men housed in women's prisons report enduring repeated and unwarranted strip searches, often in front of other inmates or guards.

"It's torture and sexual slavery," says Spade. "These are the proper terms for it."

In a few county jails, including San Francisco and Multnomah County, Ore., transgender inmates are housed in separate facilities to spare them such atrocities. But that, too, comes with a price. Segregation from the general population often means exclusion from the few programs offered to help inmates avoid incarceration in the future, including drug treatment, high-school equivalency training and anger-management courses.

"It's punitive segregation," Lee says, "and a form of discrimination, even if unintended."

In state prisons, often the only safeguard transgender prisoners have from violent inmates is protective custody, sometimes called "lockdown," in which inmates are locked in an isolated cell 23 hours a day or housed with other inmates considered vulnerable. But even there they are subject to abuse from guards and, on occasion, other inmates.

No matter where they are housed, incarcerated transgender people report chronic difficulties in getting appropriate medical care, especially hormone therapy. Most jails and prisons don't have written policies on hormone use, so arbitrary decisions can be made by individual corrections officers rather than by doctors.

In addition, Thaler says, "there's a misperception that if hormones are made accessible to inmates, then trans people will commit crimes to get into prison to get them."

"But if you think about the ways transgender people are treated in prison," he says, "that's ludicrous."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Parents decry teacher's plea agreement - THE PORTAGE DAILY REGISTER

I represented Mr. Bravick in defense of baseless charges of invasion of privacy. These charges were dismissed yesterday, so that Mr. Bravick and his family may move forward with their life and seek return to his employment position.

by Paul Ferguson

Parents of some Poynette Middle School students say justice isn't being served in the case of a former physical education teacher accused of entering a girls' locker room while the girls were undressed on several occasions in March of last year.

The Columbia County District Attorney's office dismissed invasion-of-privacy charges Wednesday against Dennis Bravick, 45, and settled on a deferred prosecution agreement for a bail-jumping charge to which Bravick pleaded no contest.

Under the agreement, the charge will be suspended and ultimately dismissed if Bravick complies with certain conditions for two years.

Parents spoke out against Bravick, a 17-year veteran of the school district, at Wednesday's plea hearing.

One mother said she'd moved out of the Poynette district due mostly to Bravick. She said she hopes he'll never teach physical education again.

Another mother characterized the deferred prosecution agreement as Bravick "getting his hand slapped."

"When these young adults stood up for what they believed to be right, the justice system shouldn't let them down," the woman said.

She listed several alleged incidents that made three of her daughters feel uncomfortable around Bravick. The mother said she'd heard many stories from her daughters' schools, "but none as disturbing as Mr. Bravick's."

The agreement stipulates that Bravick, a married father of two, is to undergo psychological evaluation and counseling, stay out of trouble and have no contact with any of his accusers. With certain exceptions, he is to stay at least 1,000 feet away from Poynette School District property and may not attend any extracurricular activities involving Poynette schools.

In the event that an arbitration case in which Bravick is appealing his dismissal from the school district ends with his employment being reinstated, his contract can be revisited or terminated.
Assistant District Attorney Crystal Long said she and defense attorney Erik Guenther reached the plea agreement after many hours of negotiations, which began in earnest as the prosecution's case began to unravel weeks ago.

One of four initial counts of privacy invasion was dropped Feb. 24 when it was discovered Bravick wasn't in school on the day alleged. Long said Wednesday she had to dismiss the remaining three charges because one key witness recently changed her story while testifying in Bravick's arbitration case.

To get a plea from Bravick for the deferred prosecution agreement, Long filed a one-count case of misdemeanor bail jumping Tuesday, accusing Bravick of violating bond conditions simply by going to Poynette High School Dec. 29 for an arbitration hearing.

Judge Daniel George said he understood that it frustrated the parents to let the privacy-invasion charges go.

"Given the sentiments that exist, perhaps a better course of procedure might have been to try it and let the jury determine for itself whether he was guilty or not guilty," he told Long.

But Long said a concern that prosecutors deal with every day is taking unsuitable charges to a jury and getting an unjust conviction. Once the new testimony came to light, "Invasion of privacy, which is what he was charged under, didn't fit anymore," Long said.

Guenther said Bravick acknowledged violating bail conditions, but the attorney declined comment on the allegations raised by parents. As to the formal charges, "He's maintained throughout that he didn't commit the invasion of privacy charges that were alleged," Guenther said.

In addition to Bravick's pending arbitration case, he is under investigation by the Department of Public Instruction, according to the teacher licensing database on DPI's Web site.
DPI spokesman Joe Donovan said such investigations could lead to revocation of Bravick's teaching licenses if investigators find Bravick committed immoral conduct, defined in state law as "conduct or behavior that is contrary to commonly accepted ethical or moral standards and that endangers the health, safety, welfare or education of any pupil."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Charges Dismissed Against Poynette Educator

March 8, 2006
Contact: Erik Guenther (Counsel for Dennis Bravick)
(608) 257-0945

COLUMBIA COUNTY, WI -- Charges against physical education instructor Dennis Bravick for invasion of privacy were dropped today by the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office. The charges were brought based on allegations that Mr. Bravick entered the girl’s locker room in the Poynette school last spring. Mr. Bravick denied the allegations and maintained his innocence. Based on the allegations, Mr. Bravick was dismissed from his position with the Poynette School District. Mr. Bravick is currently seeking reinstatement of his position through an arbitration process.

Mr. Bravick was charged with four counts of invasion of privacy in April 2005. On February 24, 2006, the District Attorney’s Office dismissed one count after determining that Mr. Bravick was not in school on the date of the allegation. Mr. Bravick’s trial for the remaining three misdemeanors was scheduled for March 8 - March 10, 2006. The remaining charges were dismissed today.

"Dennis has served the Poynette School District for seventeen years. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence and is thankful that the charges were dismissed," said his attorney Erik Guenther.

Mr. Bravick continues his arbitration process seeking reinstatement of his position with the Poynette School District. "Mr. Bravick is pleased that based upon review of additional evidence the case was dropped against him. He and his family can put the fear of unfounded criminal charges behind them and focus on seeking return to his position," added Guenther.

In a separate matter, Mr. Bravick acknowledged his error in visiting the school district after school hours as part of the arbitration process, in violation of his bond conditions. Mr. Bravick visited the school with the arbitrator, counsel for the Poynette School District and his employment attorney. Mr. Bravick pled no contest to this bail jumping charge. Judge George accepted the recommendation of the District Attorney’s Office and Mr. Guenther to defer judgment in this matter, which will ultimately result in dismissal of this charge.

– end –

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Two New Measures To Bring Death Penalty to Wisconsin - NBC15

Last night Madison's NBC affiliate carried a story discussing the proposed death penalty referendum. I was featured in opposition to the referendum.

By Dana Brueck

A single referendum question could tell lawmakers, once and for all, how Wisconsin feels about the death penalty. A death penalty opponent says the move would advance the political debate without providing real information on the issue.

No one has been put to death in Wisconsin in more than 150 years, but the case of Steven Avery has compelled some lawmakers to re-visit the debate.

"I had a number of constituents call up who were actually crying and said you need to introduce your bill and do something," Sen. Tom Reynolds says.

Reynolds calls his legislation the most narrowly crafted death penalty bill in the nation. Anyone convicted of sexual assault, murder and dismemberment or mutilation of another would be eligible for a sentence of death, if DNA evidence is present.

Steven Avery, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years, is suspected of raping and killing freelance photographer Theresa Halbach. He has not been tried, but the case's brutality has some lawmakers calling for the death penalty in Wisconsin.
"This is why western society, history of mankind may have had the death penalty, for people who have dehumanized themselves with such vile behavior," Sen. Reynolds says.

"Those examples are the ones you'd expect a politician to pick out because they're the easier ones to justify," criminal defense attorney Erik Guenther says. The State Bar of Wisconsin opposes the death penalty.

Guenther says a system of justice, not of revenge, exists to punish those convicted of heinous crimes. "Punishment with lifetime imprisonment, which is what we have now, does adequately address punishment and is significantly less costly than we as a society accepting the moral compromise to put people to death," he says.

But Sen. Alan Lasee wants to put the issue to voters through referendum ... asking, "Should the death penalty be enacted in the State of Wisconsin for cases involving a person who is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, if the homicide is vicious and the conviction supported by DNA evidence?"

"If the majority say yes, then I would introduce a bill next session and take it from there," Sen. Lasee says.

But Guenther calls the question slanted, saying it also leaves out important issues, such as the quality of legal representation for a defendant. "The quality of representation affects the ability to question and challenge the presence of DNA evidence. Not all DNA evidence is the same."

LaSee's resolution is scheduled to hit the floor on Tuesday. If passed by both houses, the advisory referendum question would go on the September ballot. A committee hearing on Reynold's draft bill is scheduled for Wednesday.

To view the story as it aired on last night's evening news go to: