UPDATED: Online Posts Appear to Show TDCJ Officers Encouraging Violence Against Trans Prisoner
Comments on a September Observer article include ‘one to the back of the head.’
Update, October 13, 1:30 p.m.: Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) spokesman Jason Clark said corrections officer Dakota Hoffman resigned from TDCJ on August 3, and Francoise Jean-Baptiste was on unpaid leave at the time of the Facebook post, but the agency will still review whether he was responsible for it. Johnson-Dias is an active employee.
“The agency is investigating whether employee Susan Johnson-Dias posted the comment which is no longer on the post in question,” Clark said. “The comments were not appropriate and the information has been forwarded along for further review.”
Clark added that he could not provide further info about why Jean-Baptiste was on unpaid leave.
In an interview with the Observer, Hoffman said he resigned for personal reasons but knows Gibson because he once worked at the unit where she’s housed.
“From what I understand, there is some kind of investigation going on with those comments, which — yes — some of them were pretty vulgar and vile to be honest, even mine, but mine wasn’t threatening,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman, who misgendered Gibson in the interview, said he posted the comment because he doesn’t believe taxpayers should foot the bill for gender confirmation surgery for trans prisoners.
“If the state’s OK with his-slash-her family paying for the thing, I’m all for it,” he said.
Original story, October 10:
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) says it is reviewing inflammatory and threatening anti-transgender Facebook posts from accounts that appear to belong to employees, in order to determine whether they violate agency policy.
The posts, made from three separate accounts, came in response to a recent Observer story about Vanessa Gibson, an incarcerated trans woman who’s appealing a federal judge’s recent dismissal of her lawsuit seeking gender confirmation surgery.
“I cannot confirm the pages belong to TDCJ employees,” spokesman Jason Clark said in an email Friday. “This information has been sent to Human Resources for further review. TDCJ does not have a social media policy for employees, however there are personnel directives that address on-duty and off-duty conduct.”
LGBT advocates say the Facebook posts are indicative of a broader culture of anti-trans bias within TDCJ, but Clark denied that’s the case.
A user named Dakota Hoffman posted a comment reading “Let the fucker suffer” on the article about Gibson. Hoffman’s profile identifies the user as a TDCJ corrections officer, and Hoffman’s account shared the story from the Facebook group Texas Correctional Employees – Huntsville.
“One to the back of the head,” added another user, Francois Jean-Baptiste, whose account also self-identifies as belonging to a TDCJ corrections officer.
In addition to identifying themselves as TDCJ employees in their Facebook profiles, Hoffman and Jean-Baptiste are listed under the job classification “Corrections Officer III” in the Texas Tribune’s database of state employee salaries.
Another user, Susan Johnson-Dias, wrote below the story on the Huntsville group’s Facebook page that TDCJ should “give [Gibson] a state razor and a bandaid” so that Gibson could perform a “do it yourself sex change.”
Johnson-Dias’ Facebook profile includes a photo that appears to show her in a TDCJ uniform. The Tribune’s salary database lists a “Susan Dias” under the job classification “Corrections Officer V.”
The users behind the Hoffman, Jean-Baptiste and Johnson-Dias accounts didn’t respond to Facebook messages seeking comment. After receiving a request for comment from the Observer, the Hoffman account blocked this reporter from sending further communications.
Nell Gaither, president of Trans Pride Initiative, a Dallas nonprofit that advocates for prisoners’ rights, said the TDCJ system is heavily structured around gender norms, and anyone who violates them is vulnerable to abuse.
“We get a lot of reports of corrections officers harassing trans persons, and many of these include encouragement of self-harm and self-amputation of body parts, so this type of reaction from corrections officers doesn’t at all surprise me,” Gaither said.
Gaither also said that officers often retaliate against trans people who report abuses. “They will often start catching false cases that lower their custody level and put them in more violent environments,” Gaither said.
Gaither has been publicizing a petition launched by a friend of another trans TDCJ prisoner, Taylor Hearne, that alleges agency officials threatened and retaliated against her after she complained about being forced to strip in front of male prisoners before leaving her cell at the Allred unit.
Asked about Hearne’s allegations, Clark said, “Privacy partitions are in place and utilized at all TDCJ facilities, including the Allred Unit, when offenders are strip searched.”
TDCJ is also facing a lawsuit from Passion Star, a trans prisoner who alleges that agency officials have shown deliberate indifference to threats of sexual assault and violence against her in men’s prisons.
“She has filed dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, TDCJ officials have told her to ‘suck dick,’ ‘fight’ or to stop ‘acting gay’ if she does not want to be assaulted,” according to the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, which is representing Star in the lawsuit.