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Black trans woman awarded $1.5 million after being called slurs and wrongly arrested for jaywalking

She spent five months and 12 days in jail after police officers claimed there was cocaine inside a stress ball they found in her purse.

Black trans woman awarded $1.5 million after being called slurs and wrongly arrested for jaywalking
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Avosb

A Black trans woman was granted $1.5 million last week after a federal jury found she was wrongly arrested in 2015 in Atlanta on bogus cocaine charges and jailed for almost six months. According to The New York Times, Ju’Zema Goldring was in midtown Atlanta with her friends on October 10, 2015, when she jaywalked in an area that is home to a large L.G.B.T.Q. population. The then-22-year-old was arrested by officers Vladimir Henry and Juan Restrepo, who searched her purse and taunted Goldring with transgender slurs, claims a lawsuit which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in 2018.


The lawsuit also accuses the officers of conducting an "invasive search" of her body while she wore a dress. When they found a stress ball inside her purse, Henry and Restrepo allegedly cut it open, inspected the ball for drugs and claimed to have found cocaine inside, the lawsuit states. Although Goldring initially believed "they were joking," the lawsuit adds, the officers were not kidding and took her to the Fulton County Jail. At the jail, Goldring saw the officers conduct drug tests on the substance inside the stress ball and heard one officer tell Henry, "Give it up, buddy," after multiple test results came back negative, the lawsuit states.


Goldring was then informed she would have to wait in jail until test results returned from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as she could not afford the $25,500 bond, her lawyers said. For five months and 12 days, she was placed in a dorm for people who identify as transgender women, yet was still subjected to sexual misconduct, Goldring's lawyers added. She was finally released on March 22, 2016, a day after her charges were dismissed and more than four months after the G.B.I. determined on Nov. 17, 2015, that the contents inside the stress ball were not cocaine or any other drug substance but merely "the interior contents of a stress ball."


Two days after the jury's verdict this week, Judge William Ray II said Goldring deserved "some semblance of justice" for what occurred. "She spent nearly six months in the Fulton County Jail based on this seemingly bogus charge," Judge Ray wrote in his ruling. He added that there were "two seeming injustices that came to light at the trial." The first occurred when Atlanta police officers testified that they arrested people for jaywalking, Judge Ray said. Doing so is a troubling practice, he explained, as such low-level offenses could "seriously disrupt a person's life" and eventually lead to discrimination. Instead of arresting people for jaywalking, officers' energy "could be better spent on more pressing activities, such as addressing violent crimes," he said.


The second injustice was brought to light when the chief deputy of the Atlanta Police Department, Darin Schierbaum, testified that the department's police officers work under a system that rewards them with points for making a traffic citation, an arrest or other actions. "The court is concerned that such a system may create perverse incentives for officers," Judge Ray wrote. For example, an officer who is at the end of a shift might be tempted to arrest a person "for just a couple extra points," he pointed out, adding that he hoped the city and department would reform the practice.


One of Goldring's lawyers, Miguel A. Dominguez, said in an interview on Tuesday that "this whole ordeal has had a tremendous negative impact on her life," and that she struggled with nightmares and mental health issues after "being locked up as an innocent person for 23 hours a day." Her case underscored how Black transgender people were treated unjustly by law enforcement officials, Goldring's lawyers stated. "There's nothing about this that makes this all just go away," said Dominguez. "It's just a portion of what she needs to restore her and make her whole. And this verdict, unfortunately, won't do that." Meanwhile, Steve Avery—a spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department—revealed that Officers Henry and Restrepo were still employed and on duty.

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