By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007
District officials plan to fire three corrections officers who failed to realize a woman was being held in the male detention unit at the D.C. jail last month even after she had been strip-searched and allowed to shower with male inmates, government sources said yesterday.
Virginia Grace Soto, 47, was arrested July 14 and thought to be a man despite her repeated protests otherwise, according to two internal reports by D.C. police and the Department of Corrections obtained by The Washington Post.
Although Soto came in contact with at least nine jail employees, only three are being terminated. Government sources wouldn't disclose their names yesterday, but one was said to be a supervisor.
The corrections officers "failed to comply [with] standard intake search policies as mandated," a 73 - page internal report by the Corrections Department says.
"We want to send a signal that this behavior will not be tolerated," said a high-ranking D.C. government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the termination proceedings are underway. "They should have taken the right precautions to verify the sex of person. And she should have been treated with a lot more respect."
According to the reports, mistakes were made at several points in Soto's arrest and court processing, including by D.C. police officers and the U.S. Marshals Service. The only disciplinary action being taken now is against the corrections officers.
Soto was interviewed for the corrections report. The 105-page police report, dated Saturday, concludes that the error was not the result of misconduct by police. The report says that Soto "has not filed a complaint" about the mix-up and that "attempts to locate her have been unsuccessful."
Soto, a white Hispanic woman originally from the Dominican Republic, is 5-foot-3 and weighs 130 pounds. She has a "slight build," with brown hair and brown eyes, according to the corrections report, which describes S oto as "androgynous in nature." Soto has used aliases and has a history of misdemeanor and felony arrests in the District, New Jersey and Virginia, the report says.
The reports reveal that Soto was arrested twice since April and that both times officials classified her as a man.
The mix-up began April 28 when Soto was arrested on suspicion of prostitution. Although she told the two arresting officers she was a woman, she was ultimately booked as a man after being interviewed by Sgt. Tania Bell of the city's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.
Bell told investigators that Soto was belligerent and incomprehensible during the interview, part of which took place through an interpreter who spoke to Soto in Spanish, according to a report by the police department's internal affairs division. Bell ultimately classified Soto as a "transgendered male."
Soto was released on her own recognizance and failed to show up for a trial in that case. She was arrested again July 14 on drug-related charges. Although the offic ers, and hospital workers who examined her that day, thought her to be a woman, she was processed as a man by an unidentified cell block technician based on computer records related to her April arrest, according to the report by the corrections division.
Soto spent two weekend nights in a solitary holding cell in an area reserved for male suspects awaiting a court appearance July 16, when U.S. marshals took her to D.C. Superior Court. Soto told investigators that she informed the marshals she was not a man but was "mocked" and called "thing."
After her arraignment, Soto and 11 male prisoners were taken by the marshals to the men's receiving unit at the D.C. jail. Two officers who interviewed her during initial processing failed to follow proper procedures that should have detected the mix-up, according to the corrections report.
Soto was then strip-searched by two other jail officers who failed to notice she was a woman, in part because she had covered her genitals with her hand, the report said. The only thing unusual that the two officers reported spotting was "the bandage on the lower left side of her back."
"I didn't see nothing," one jail officer told investigators, "but I was still thinking male."
A male inmate who was responsible for issuing prison clothes saw Soto naked after she had been searched and yelled out that she was a woman. Authorities failed to respond, even though one officer acknowledged hearing the inmate yell out.
Before dressing, Soto entered the shower and bathed with four male inmates, the report said. She was later photographed, X-rayed and given an armband. At that point, she told an officer she was female.
"Sure you are," the officer replied, according to the report, "but your identification says otherwise."
Soto was then taken to a holding cell and interviewed by Cpl. Maria Duncan, who spoke with her in Spanish. Duncan ordered her removed from the cell and taken to an examination room, where she was pronounced by a doctor to be a woman.
Procedures "within the inmate receiving process were in place that should have made this determination sooner if they were more stringently adhered to," the report says.
The U.S. Marshals Service did not return a call seeking comment yesterday. Bell could not be reached for comment.