WATERTOWN — Nearly one year after a Watertown woman’s first lawsuit was dismissed, a federal lawsuit has been filed seeking damages for what she alleges was an unlawful arrest nearly four years ago.
DeAnna LeTray, through the New York Civil Liberties Union, filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, against Jefferson County; the city of Watertown; Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen O’Neill; Watertown police officers George Cummings, Samuel White and Virginia Kelly; Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building Administrator Kristopher M. Spencer; county corrections officer Joel Dettmer; Watertown Police Chief Charles P. Donoghue; and four John Does.
Ms. LeTray, a 54-year-old transgender woman, first filed suit in state Supreme Court in Jefferson County more than two years ago seeking to have the state Division of Human Rights investigate her alleged claims of unlawful treatment by Watertown police at the public safety building.
She also made claims that she was arrested because she’s transgender. She made those same claims in her newly filed federal lawsuit.
In September 2017, Ms. LeTray was arrested after a domestic dispute in the city. She was charged Sept. 28, 2017, with fourth-degree criminal mischief, second-degree obstructing government administration and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. The substance charge stems from the alleged discovery of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy or molly, in her purse after the arrest.
Ms. LeTray, who was arrested under the name of Anthony Campanaro, alleges in her federal complaint that upon her arrest, the officers mis-gendered her, mocked her gender identity, as well as subjected her to excessive force, unnecessarily forced her to strip naked and then sexually assaulted her.
According to the federal complaint, Ms. LeTray’s strip search “went beyond merely visual when the officer conducting the search fondled Ms. LeTray’s genitals and repeatedly penetrated her rectum with his finger.” Mr. Dettmer, according to the complaint, was the officer who conducted the alleged unlawful search.
“I never want anyone to go through the abuse I experienced from people that were supposed to protect me,” Ms. LeTray said in a prepared statement issued by the NYCLU. “Watertown law enforcement and Jefferson County jail staff must be held accountable for their actions. The abuses that police and jail staff across New York state commit against transgender New Yorkers must end.”
In her federal suit, Ms. LeTray calls the alleged actions degrading, humiliating and discriminatory.
Ms. LeTray is asking a federal judge to grant her monetary damages in an amount to be set at trial, assuming the case goes to trial, as well as award punitive damages against the non-municipal defendants in an amount to determined at a trial.
She’s also asking the judge to order the defendants to identify all records in their possession relating to Ms. LeTray’s arrest and custody; “correct those records to properly identify” Ms. LeTray as a woman; delete the booking photo of Ms. LeTray without her hairpiece from its records; destroy any hard copies of the photo; and cease providing public access to the photo.
Ms. LeTray’s first complaint that would have allowed the Division of Human Rights to investigate her claims was dismissed by state Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky in January 2019.
In March of last year, the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, Rochester, upheld Judge McClusky ruling.
The complaint was first dismissed by the Division of Human Rights not on the merits of Ms. LeTray’s claim, but because the division claimed it has no jurisdiction over police agencies. NYCLU then filed suit charging that police agencies are “public accommodations” and therefore fall under the jurisdiction of the Division of Human Rights.
In his decision two years ago, Judge McClusky said the court was bound to uphold the Division of Human Rights’ determination unless it found the division’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious or an error of law.” Judge McClusky wrote that courts have “routinely” held that correctional facilities, comprehensive alcohol and substance abuse treatment programs and state Office of Mental Health detention centers are not considered public accommodations.
The judge noted that while some services provided by police, such as fingerprinting and educational programs, are available to the general public and could be considered public accommodations, the investigation of crimes and ensuing arrests are not.
“Investigating crimes and arresting citizens are services for the betterment of society but are not services open to the public,” Judge McClusky wrote. “Certainly we expect police to treat all citizens with respect, however where there are allegations of abuse the complaining individuals do not have the right to have the (Division of Human Rights) investigate those complaints.”
Her federal lawsuit is no longer seeking that the Division of Human Rights investigate the incident, as made clear in her new petition.
Managing Editor Brian Kelly contributed to this report.