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Local Advocacy Groups Criticize County's Handling Of Trans Inmate's Death

A collection of Northeast Ohio transgender and LGBT advocacy groups on Friday discussed the death of Lea Rayshon Daye, a Black transgender woman, in the Cuyahoga County Jail.

Daye was found unresponsive by corrections officers at the jail Sunday morning, according to a press release from the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. She had been in custody for 105 days, according to the release.

Advocates for trans rights argued Daye’s death is an example of inhumane and inequitable conditions in the jail during the press conference. The conference was a collaborative effort with the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, Equality Ohio, the Coalition to Stop the Inhumanity at the Cuyahoga County Jail, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and additional nonprofit advocacy groups.

Discrimination against trans individuals, particularly Black trans women, is prevalent in local courts and law enforcement, said Devinity Jones, Trans Wellness Program Coordinator with the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland.

“We cannot sit here and say, ‘This is my community, I’m protecting my community, I’m doing the best for my community,’ in these positions of power, and not include transgender people that are in this community,” Jones said.

Transgender inmates are frequently mistreated, misgendered and denied necessary health care, Jones said. Jones has spent time in the Cuyahoga County Jail herself and she said the conditions are in desperate need of improvement.

“They can punch you, hit you, mace you, spit on you, step on you, throw you up against the wall and don’t care what your gender is, what your name is… your background,” Jones said. “They can just do whatever they want, and this definitely has to stop.”

Jail conditions make it difficult for inmates to focus on preparing their case for court, Jones said, as well as following through on any legal steps to improve their situation.

Cuyahoga County officials and local media further mistreated Daye following her death, said Rev. Reegie Bunch with the Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition, by including an incorrect name and other information on official documents.

“They would not, they could not even afford her the basic dignity of releasing and reporting to the public her correct name and gender after her passing,” Bunch said.

It is clear that conditions at the jail have not improved despite repeated calls for change, Bunch said.

“The victims of the Cuyahoga County Jail should not be forgotten, and Black trans lives should not be erased,” Bunch said.

The groups are calling for an impartial, third-party investigation into Daye’s death, as well as systemic change to improve the conditions in the jail.

“We also need to begin thinking and speaking of mass incarceration as an extension of enslavement into the modern day,” said Ellie Turan, Director of Development at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland.

Housing trans women in all-male prison facilities contributes to abuse and further mistreatment, Turan said, as well as mental health difficulties already prevalent in the population.

“It is a travesty. It’s a disgrace,” Turan said. “And it shows that those in a position of power to change it do not care about sexual assault.”

Trans and LGBTQ individuals face disproportionate challenges with finding safe and secure housing, said Chris Knestrick with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

“The road to homelessness and the experience itself is filled with criminalization and trauma,” Knestrick said.

Unequal access to housing leads to additional burdens and issues, he said, including incarceration, injury and death.

“Like the lives lost through police murder, mass shootings, and the COVID pandemic, these are not isolated instances,” Knestrick said. “They are symptoms of the deep systemic rot that places property and profit above human life and human dignity.”  

Cuyahoga County spokesperson Mary Louise Madigan confirmed an inmate died in the jail this past weekend and said an investigation is ongoing, but did not provide additional details.

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