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Transgender woman drops suit against Ga. prison officials

The woman sued over alleged mistreatment while in custody, but decided not to proceed the day before the trial was set to begin

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By Kate Brumback
Associated Press

ATLANTA — A Black transgender woman who sued Georgia prison officials over alleged mistreatment while in custody decided not to proceed to trial because she feared the experience would be harmful to her, her lawyers said Thursday.

Ashley Diamond, 44, sued Georgia prison officials in November 2020, saying they had failed to protect her from repeated sexual assaults and failed to provide her with adequate medical treatment. She was released in August but continued to pursue her lawsuit to seek damages and with the goal of implementing lasting change in the prison system, her lawyers said in a news release earlier this week.

The trial was set to begin Thursday in federal court in Macon, but Diamond instead decided to dismiss the lawsuit.

“Ashley Diamond has decided that a lengthy trial and the trauma of recounting her abuse and neglect by the Georgia Department of Corrections would be detrimental to her recovery,” her lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a news release Thursday.

She is grateful for the public support she’s received and plans to continue working as an activist after she has spent time focusing on her own healing, the release says.

“For over a decade, Ms. Diamond has fought for the rights of imprisoned transgender people, and she hopes to continue to be a leader in this vital effort,” her lawyers said.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath said in an email that the agency “is pleased that the taxpayers will be spared any further cost related to this case.” She said the department is committed to “ensuring the medical and mental health needs are being met” for all people it its custody and that the evidence at trial would have shown that.

Diamond has identified as female since she was a child and began hormone therapy when she was 17, giving her full breasts, softer skin and a feminine appearance, her lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was the second that she had filed against state prison officials. A previous suit, filed in 2015, included similar allegations and was settled in February 2016.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief shortly after her first lawsuit was filed, saying that prison officials must treat a gender identity condition just as they would treat any other medical or mental health condition. The filing said the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires them to provide individualized assessment and care for the condition.

Georgia prison officials then implemented a policy to ensure that prisoners with a possible gender dysphoria diagnosis are evaluated by qualified medical and mental health professionals, including an assessment of treatment and experiences before entering prison. The policy also said a treatment plan would be developed to address physical and mental health.

Diamond was returned to prison on a parole violation in October 2019. She was sent to a prison for men and her lawyers said she again faced unconstitutional conditions. They said she was repeatedly sexually assaulted, endured constant sexual harassment and was denied treatment for her gender dysphoria.

The Associated Press doesn’t generally identify victims of sexual assault, but Diamond has repeatedly come forward publicly to put a spotlight on the treatment of transgender people in prison.

While her lawsuit was pending, she asked a federal judge to order prison officials to transfer her to a women’s prison. But she remained in a prison for men until her release in August.

The U.S. Department of Justice also weighed in after she field the second lawsuit, reiterating prison officials’ obligations to keep transgender people reasonably safe from substantial risk of harm and provide them with adequate medical care.

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