4 female inmates claim they were jailed with man at Riverside

Posted: November 17, 2011

Four female prison inmates have filed a federal suit claiming that each was forced to share a jail cell with an accused pimp and armed robber who clearly had male genitalia.

Jovanie Saldana, who is transgendered, spent 14 months at Riverside, the city's jail for women, until accusing a guard of sexual assault.

"This is not a case of medical malpractice," the suit states. "Indeed, a layperson can determine from a visual examination whether they are looking at male or female genitals."

Saldana's journey through the Philadelphia prison system began in June 2010, after an arrest for promoting prostitution. Four days later, Saldana, 23, was accused of armed robbery and jailed.

The arrest papers stated Saldana was a man. FBI and other files also said Saldana was male, according to court documents.

But after processing, Saldana, who considers herself a woman, was taken to Riverside.

The Philadelphia prison system's policy allows transgendered inmates who have undergone gender reassignment to be placed in a facility appropriate for the new gender.

The policy is less clear about how to handle inmates before gender reassignment. Inmates should be placed in accordance with their gender as determined by their external genitalia, it states. But the policy also adds that the determination should take into account the recommendations of a qualified medical staff person.

"We just don't say you have male genitalia so we're going to put you here," prisons spokeswoman Shawn Hawes said. "We try to house people so that they're safe and the other inmates are safe. It was assumed she was female."

When admitted to prison, all inmates are required to strip naked so nurses can conduct a body search. The suit claims the nurses neglected to conduct a complete search and that somehow Saldana, who has ample cleavage and long, dark hair, slipped through.

After the initial search, nurses performed a pelvic examination, a urine test for pregnancy, and a chest X-ray. The suit claimed nurses failed to take notice of Saldana's penis and Saldana was placed in the D unit of the women's prison.

The female inmates' suit expresses disbelief that officers could have conducted multiple cell-block shakedowns during Saldana's 14-month stay at Riverside and not noticed her genitalia. A shakedown requires inmates to strip and have their body cavities searched. Saldana was subjected to up to 20 strip searches, according to the suit. In each case, the suit states, authorities failed to "inspect and search Saldana's anal and penile areas and to detect Saldana's male genitals."

Officials transferred Saldana to a men's prison on Aug. 1, but only after Saldana complained about being forced to perform oral sex on a corrections officer. After an investigation, the officer was not criminally charged; shortly afterward, the officer was transferred to another prison.

The suit states Saldana was housed with four different cell mates while at Riverside.

The inmates - Yazmin Gonzales, Katiria Chamorro, Maria Cachola, and recently released Jabrina T. Barnett - claim Saldana touched or groped them, subjected them to daily sexual harassment, and leered at them as they bathed or used the toilet.

The suit claims their constitutional rights were purposely trampled by being forced to live with Saldana. They are suing for a minimum of $150,000, citing mental anguish, loss of rights, and serious risk to their physical and emotional well-being.

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2796 or samwood@phillynews.com.

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