Transgender woman attacked by police officer in Memphis

One Memphis police officer has been fired and another is on non-enforcement status after a February attack on a transgender woman in the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center that has resulted in a $1.3 million dollar lawsuit.

The Memphis Police Department identified the officer who was fired as James Swain, 25. Swain was fired in early April. The other officer, Bridges McRae, 28, was placed on non-enforcement status pending an administrative hearing.

Survailance camera footage obtained by a Memphis TV station (WMC) shows the attack on Duanna Johnson, 42, in the booking area of the justice center after her arrest for prostitution, according to WMC-TV website. Watch the video here. The prostitution charges have been dropped.

One officer called Johnson a ‘faggot’ and a ‘he-she’ and then hit her several times in the face after she refused to respond to the derogatory comments, according to the site. The officer repeatedly punched Johnson with handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles while a second officer held Johnson’s shoulders as she tried to defend herself, according to the site.
Johnson eventually was able to stand up to defend herself and threw a punch at the officer. After she sat back down, she was maced and left on the floor in handcuffs, according to WMC-TV.

Johnson said the officer hit her so hard he split her skull, WMC-TV reported. Video posted on the site shows a nurse walk past Johnson to tend to the officer involved in the attack.

Chris Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project, said the group is looking for ways to stop these kinds of hate-motivated attacks.

"TEP joins other organizations in condemning this terrifying attack that is clearly motivated by hate and bias,” Sanders said. “Our Shelby County Committee is reaching out to the police department to explore ways of making sure this sort of violence doesn't happen again.”

Sanders said this attack is further evidence of the need for Senators Alexander and Corker to support the Matthew Shepard Act that would add gender identity and sexual orientation to federal hate crimes protections.

Marisa Richmond, president of Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, said it is time to hold officials accountable for dealing with such hate crimes.

"This reprehensible attack upon a person who was not resisting simply because of her gender expression has no place in a civilized society," Richmond said. "The brutality of this attack must be dealt with by the judicial system.  If Shelby County District Attorney, William Gibbons, who is reportedly considering a run for Governor in 2010, will not prosecute the officers involved for this obvious hate crime, then he should be removed from office for dereliction of duty."

Richmond said the Memphis Police Department had a recruiting booth at the Mid-south Pride Festival in Memphis
this past Saturday. She said she questions the department's commitment to opening their doors to the GLBT employees because they have not fired the officer who punched Johnson.

"Their presence at Pride was an important step, but the video shows how far they have to go," Richmond said.

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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