A transgender woman who tried to visit her incarcerated brother in Louisiana was ordered to “reveal her genitalia” to prison guards before she could leave the penitentiary, a federal lawsuit claims.
China Nelson was on the approved visitor list at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for at least 14 years, where she has visited her brother, Timothy Lenoir, according to court documents.
Nelson, a 48-year-old New Orleans resident, is suing the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and the officers—only identified in the suit as John and Jane Doe—who ordered her to strip. The federal complaint was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
In September 2017, she went with her family to visit Lenoir at Angola, and while going through a metal detector, a guard told her she saw “something” in her pants. Nelson “acknowledged that she was born a male as indicated on her driver’s license in an effort to explain the ‘something’ the guard stated she saw,” according to the lawsuit.
Two guards took Nelson to a men’s restroom, where she was ordered to remove her pants and underwear. She asked instead to leave the penitentiary.
The guards called a supervisor, who took Nelson to a separate room.
“Nelson again refused, stating that she would elect to forego the visit and wait in her vehicle while her mother and brother proceeded,” the complaint states. “After Ms. Nelson reached her car, the supervisor and approximately nine other unknown guards insisted on ‘shaking down’ the vehicle and demanded that Ms. Nelson would have to reveal her genitalia before being permitted to leave the premises.”
Nelson consented to the search of her vehicle, but refused the strip search, and the guards allegedly canceled the visit.
The deputy warden of security later sent Nelson a letter informing her that she had been removed from the approved-visitor list for at least six months, the lawsuit claims.
Nelson’s lawyer, Galen Hair, told the Associated Press that Nelson experienced both harassment and discrimination.
“Surely, the (prison) is not strip-searching every man who goes through the machine,” Hair said. Nelson had never encountered that kind of discrimination at the facility before, and she hasn’t visited the prison since the day in question, he said.
Nelson has requested a jury trial to determine damages. She claims negligence, unreasonable search and seizure, and the deprivation of visitation privileges. Nelson has also asked the court for an order preventing prison officials from engaging in such discriminatory conduct in the future.
Department of Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick is said to have told the AP the department declined to comment, citing pending litigation.