Christopher Heredia, 08/09/2002


A 37-year-old transgender man has sued San Francisco and several law enforcement officers, claiming he was beaten and later taunted about his gender identity when arrested last year.

In addition to $25 million in damages, Jeremy Burke of San Francisco — who is making the transition from female to male with hormones and surgery — says he hopes the lawsuit will lead to improved sensitivity training for veteran police officers.

The suit stems from Burke’s Aug. 13 arrest and his assertions of improper conduct by two San Francisco police officers, a sheriff’s deputy and a Housing Authority security guard.

Besides being assaulted, Burke said, he was strip-searched by a female jailer instead of a male, subjected to derogatory comments and thrown a dress in his jail cell. He claims he required medical treatment and suffered from nightmares as a result.

“I hope by filing this lawsuit that we can make some changes to the way the police and sheriff’s departments operate so that this never happens to anyone again,” Burke said Thursday.

A spokesman for the city attorney’s office said the office hadn’t received a copy of the complaint and declined comment. The city’s watchdog Office of Citizen Complaints, however, reviewed the matter earlier and determined that Burke’s claims couldn’t be substantiated.

In his suit, Burke said the incident had happened as he was delivering medications to his ill partner, a 67-year-old woman who lives at a Housing Authority complex at 350 Ellis St.

He said he had shown identification but had initially been denied entry to the building by a female security guard, who he said later had shoved him in an elevator. The guard summoned police, who arrested Burke in the apartment of his partner on suspicion of battery, resisting arrest and trespassing.

During the arrest, Burke said, officers grabbed his arms and dragged him out of a chair, punching him in the face, chest and eye and causing internal bleeding that required hospital treatment.

To make matters worse, Burke said, an unnamed female sheriff’s deputy strip- searched him in jail, and another jail worker made offensive remarks about his genitals.

A police report on the incident quote officers as saying they grabbed Burke after he raised a fist at one of the officers. Once in jail, the report says, he tried to bite another officer on the arm.

Burke said he had tried to bite the officer to defend himself. He said the officer had been bending his fingers back.

All charges were eventually dropped except the trespassing count, which will be expunged when Burke completes a diversion program, police sources said.

Officers are trained in handling transgender men and women when they are arrested, said Police Department spokesman Jim Deignan.

“I believe (the training) is as adequate as is possible at this time,” Deignan said. “We’re always open to learning more.”

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Eileen Hirst said jail protocol called for transgender men to be examined by male staff members, and women to be strip- searched by female workers.

Hirst said jail deputies were trained not to make offensive remarks, and if someone did, it would violate department policy.

The suit also names San Francisco police officers Anton Collins and Steve Lee, Deputy Sheriff Edson Veloro and Housing Authority security guard Dorothy Lipkins.

Burke’s attorney, Waukeen McCoy, said the lawsuit had been delivered Thursday to city officials.

Transgender rights advocates and city officials said they weren’t aware of a similar lawsuit against the Police Department. However, in 1999, a transgender woman, Victoria Schneider, won $750,000 in damages from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department after a federal jury determined that deputies in 1997 had strip-searched her without justification.

Schneider’s attorney argued that she had been searched naked while other jail staffers looked on, laughing and making jokes.

Since 1995, all Police Department recruits have had to go through transgender sensitivity training, said Marcus Arana, a member of the Police Commission task force charged with coming up with recommendations for transgender sensitivity training for advanced officers.

Training delves into use of proper pronouns, myths and stereotypes and procedures for booking and detention of transgender men and women. According to a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department, deputies — veterans and rookies alike — have to go through sensitivity training.

Arana said the task force, assembled in January, was expected to issue recommendations this fall on transgender training for advanced officers.