TIME justice

A Dominican Woman Is Suing Miami’s Prison Service for Wrongly Locking Her Up as a Man

Medical staff at the prison said she had "nontraditional male characteristics"

(SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic) — A Dominican woman who says she was wrongly classified as a man and held with male inmates for 10 hours in a Miami prison filed a U.S. federal lawsuit Wednesday alleging negligence and civil rights violations.

The filing comes three years after Fiordaliza Pichardo was arrested at Miami’s international airport on what attorneys say was a decades-old drug trafficking charge that was later dismissed. The $5 million suit names the Miami-Dade Corrections Department as a defendant.

Pichardo’s lawyers say she was initially booked as a female at the Metro West Detention Center but medical staff examined her and reclassified her as a man because they determined she had “non-traditional male characteristics.” Lawyers say Pichardo was then placed with 40 male inmates in an open cell where she was allegedly taunted and sexually harassed.

Miami-Dade Corrections spokeswoman Chandra Gavin said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

Pichardo, who is married and has three children, was 50 years old at the time of the incident in November 2013.

“She was humiliated,” attorney David Kubiliun told The Associated Press. “The officials acted with deliberate indifference by failing to protect her rights.”

Kubiliun said he did not know what the prison’s medical staff meant by “non-traditional male characteristics.”

“We believe that those words were used as a cover-up to their unlawful actions,” he said. “We are in the process of finding out what those motivations were.”

Pichardo is a former government official who was elected in 2010 as city council member in Bonao, a town north of the capital of Santo Domingo. Kubiliun said she traveled to Miami in 2013 for the birth of her third grandchild and had previously visited the United States without incident.

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Associated Press writer Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

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