Trans woman reports abuse by male prison guards despite court order

trans inmates

A trans woman has accused the staff at an Oregon prison of violating a court order by allegedly allowing male guards to see her nude and perform a body-cavity search on her.

Zera Lola Zombie, 39, is an inmate at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Oregon, and a transgender woman.

Earlier this year, staff at Two Rivers were court-ordered by US District Judge Ann Aiken to consider Zombie as a vulnerable party who must be kept in her own cell away from other prisoners to prevent assault.

Transgender prisoner
Zera Lola Zombie, a trans woman, claims she faced abuse from male prison staff despite a court order to treat her as a vulnerable individual. (Envato Elements)

Aiken had also ruled that Zombie should not be forced to be nude or exposed in front of male prisoners or staff.

This court order, made in September, stemmed from a lawsuit that Zombie filed in 2021, alleging that she had been discriminated against because of her gender identity and that she was sexually assaulted by another cellmate at Two Rivers, East Oregonian reports.

Now, Zombie has filed a follow-up lawsuit and claimed that the state should be held in contempt of court.

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Zombie alleges that, in November, male prison guards performed a body-cavity search on her and “paraded” in front of male staff and inmates in only her underwear.

Lawyers for Zombie claim that guards came to her cell and put her in a small disciplinary segregation cell, where they ordered her to be strip-searched and provide a urine sample in front of male officers.

Zombie’s lawyers John Burgess and Katharine Edwards allege that, when she pointed out she was legally entitled to have both done by female prison officers, she was left alone in the cell until she eventually urinated in her clothing.

Lawyers wrote to the court that, when Zombie removed her prison clothes to let them dry, guards handcuffed her and “paraded her” in front of male staff and inmates in only her underwear, then brought her into another room where she was given a “humiliating body cavity search” by a male officer.

After the search, Zombie was “cited for contraband and disobedience of an order, and has since been placed in the disciplinary cell, where she is forced to shower in the view of male inmates and prison staff.

Zombie is serving a prison sentence for manslaughter, following the death of girlfriend Samantha Lee in 2014, and a separate charge for the assault of a fellow inmate at Two Rivers Correctional Institution. She is not expected to be released until 2049.

A lawyer for the Oregon Department of Justice argued that Zombie and a number of other prisoners were searched based on suspicions that some inmates were engaged in “illicit drug activities”, and that no suitable female officers were available when the search was being conducted.

However, Judge Aiken pointed out that the strip search could have been delayed until a qualified female officer was available since the drug they were searching for, called “spice paper” was not life-threatening like other drugs.

“You can barely get through these allegations without wondering, does somebody have any common sense?” Judge Aiken said, per the local publication.

“To me, she is not the only transgender individual in the system. So these are precautions that need to be addressed. 

“You need to answer each one of those allegations in detail… This has me very concerned.”

The District Judge warned that if Zombie’s allegations turned out to be true, “there will be sanctions.”

Judge Aiken noted that the inmates of Oregon’s correctional facilities deserve to be treated “appropriately and humanely”, and concluded: “We are not sending people into prison to be further abused.”

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