LINCOLN — A transgender inmate is suing the State of Nebraska and prison officials for failing to protect her during the 2015 Mother’s Day riot at the Tecumseh State Prison.
The inmate alleges that she was raped by multiple prisoners after staff evacuated the building. The suit claims that rioting inmates pulled her from her housing unit, which was on fire, and put her in a cell near where two other inmates were being tortured and killed.
The suit also claims that prison officials have continually denied her treatment for her gender dysphoria.
The inmate, who is now at the Omaha Correctional Center, filed the suit under the name “Jane Doe” as an alleged sexual assault victim. She initially filed in Douglas County District Court.
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Attorneys for the state got the case moved to U.S. District Court because it involves allegations that the state had violated her federal constitutional rights to due process and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
The 2015 Tecumseh riot broke out on the afternoon of May 10, when prisoners from multiple housing units refused to return to their cells after being released to get medications. Trapped prison staff had to be rescued and all staff were evacuated from the area, leaving prisoners to fend for themselves.
Before corrections employees regained control 10 hours later, inmates had killed two convicted sex offenders, set multiple fires and trashed a housing unit. The riot was the worst in the state for at least a half-century and left more than $2 million in fire and vandalism damage.
According to the lawsuit, Doe was transitioning to be a woman when she was convicted in 2013 of second-degree forgery. She was sentenced as a habitual criminal, which added 10 years to her sentence.
The suit claims that corrections officials knew of her situation at the time of sentencing but that department policy required that inmates with sentences longer than eight years be classified as maximum security prisoners. Doe was sent to Tecumseh, one of the state’s maximum security prisons.
The lawsuit also said Doe made repeated requests to get medical treatment for her condition. She allegedly was denied until 2016, when she started getting prescribed medications. The suit said she has not been able to get those medications as prescribed since May 2018.
The Nebraska prison system adopted a gender dysphoria protocol in November 2017, which requires a treatment plan for transgender inmates and spells out when hormone therapy should be provided. It says the treatment plan would determine whether an inmate could have any clothing other than what is provided for their fellow inmates.
The agency also has a policy on sexual assault and abuse, which calls for decisions about placement of transgender inmates to be made on a case-by-case basis to ensure the person’s health and safety. The policy, which was last updated on April 30, says corrections officials will recognize an inmate’s gender as listed on the person’s birth certificate, unless the person has undergone gender transformation surgery.
The suit is the latest legal fallout for the state from the 2015 Tecumseh riot.
John Wizinsky, a former inmate now living in Grand Island, also has sued in connection with the 2015 riot. His case is pending in Lancaster County District Court.
A convicted sex offender in protective custody, he claimed that the riot had caused frequent nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder and that he went 17 hours without insulin. An initial trial ended in a mistrial in November, when the judge recused himself due to a conflict of interest.
A similar civil lawsuit filed in federal court by another protective custody inmate, Robert Clayborne, was dismissed before trial in 2016. U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf ruled that prison staff were protected from liability if it was determined that they had not violated an inmate’s constitutional or statutory rights.