Tangipahoa jail

Tangipahoa Parish Jail (Photo via Google Maps on Feb. 8, 2017). 

A transgender woman was beaten and repeatedly raped by a group of male inmates at the Tangipahoa Parish Prison last year while deputies ignored her cries for help and refused to house her apart from the jail's general population, according to a new federal lawsuit. 

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, says the woman begged the guards "to protect her from the brutal acts of the other inmates" but was met first with indifference and ultimately with a threat that she would be shot if she did not "shut up."

The attack left the woman with seven broken bones in her face, the lawsuit says, as well as psychological disorders that will require long-term treatment. 

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards and Stuart Murphy, the longtime warden of the lockup who was recently reassigned within the Sheriff's Office.

It was filed on behalf of Jane Doe, a pseudonym used in court filings to protect the identity of victims. 

The lawsuit could draw new scrutiny to a jail that has experienced high-profile violence in recent months, including the beating death of another inmate in January — a melee that witnesses likened to a "shark feeding frenzy."

A 2014 lawsuit involving a separate sexual assault accused a deputy of standing by while an inmate was raped in the shower. That inmate claimed he tried to get a deputy's attention by banging on a cell window but was told to "sit down and shut up." 

"There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that the jail is in a state of chaos," Scott Perrilloux, the Tangipahoa Parish district attorney, said earlier this year. 

Edwards did not return a call seeking comment Thursday. 

Murphy refused to comment on pending litigation, but he added, "Without having the opportunity to know who is suing me, I am confident that the TPSO jail conforms to all PREA requirements."

PREA refers to the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a federal statute passed in 2003 to reduce the rate of sexual assaults in prisons.

A PREA audit conducted last June at the Tangipahoa jail gave it high marks; it said the jail met 41 standards and exceeded four others. There were no standards that the jail didn't meet, according to the audit, which was conducted by the PREA coordinator for the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office.

Edwards and others have complained for years that the 30-year-old jail is inadequate for the parish's needs. Its antiquated layout makes it hard to monitor, and it's too small to allow for the proper segregation of different types of prisoners, Edwards has said.

The latest lawsuit stemmed from an attack that happened a year ago after the woman was booked on suspicion of drunk driving in Hammond. She was taken to the jail on June 8, 2016, after refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test. The woman had been driving to a hospital to seek treatment for self-inflicted wounds to her arm when she was pulled over for driving the wrong way in the hospital's parking lot, the lawsuit says. 

According to the lawsuit, deputies at the jail were aware of the woman's gender from the outset yet failed to place her in secure housing apart from the general jail population.

Transgender inmates are known to face far higher odds of sexual assault behind bars, and the U.S. Justice Department has issued national guidelines calling for inmates' gender identity to be considered in their housing assignments.

The lawsuit claims the Sheriff's Office had "customs and practices that are so deficient that the defendants are deliberately indifferent to the substantial risk of serious harm to transgendered inmates like Ms. Doe."

Soon after the woman was placed in the jail, the lawsuit alleges, another inmate entered her cell, began taunting her and then closed the cell door. "When she protested and asked the inmate to stop," the lawsuit says, "an inmate inside Ms. Doe's cell violently beat her about the face and body. Ms. Doe called for help from TPSO deputies and received no response."

Additional inmates then joined the beating, the lawsuit alleges, "repeatedly slamming her face against the supports of the bunk bed, bloodying her face and clothes."

One of the inmates then forced the woman to perform oral sex before laughing and telling her he had AIDS, the lawsuit says. "Ms. Doe was then raped by one or more additional inmates," the lawsuit says. "She then passed out in her cell."

The lawsuit says the woman later awoke and tried to summon a deputy, who ignored her. Forty-five minutes later, another deputy came into the vicinity but, rather than help the woman, "raised what Ms. Doe perceived to be a weapon and responded that if she did not shut up he would shoot her," the lawsuit says. 

The woman did not receive medical attention until a bail bondsman arrived at the jail and expressed shock at her "visibly battered and bloody face," the lawsuit says. She has since sought mental health treatment at seven different facilities, it says.  

"These jails are dangerous places for transgendered individuals," said Samuel Fuller, one of the attorneys who represents Doe. "To identify them and pull them out of the general population could have prevented this from happening."

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.