NEW YORK - October 27 - Amnesty International called on the New York Police Department to investigate possible human rights violations by its officers in their handling of the case of Christina Sforza, a transgender woman involved in an altercation at a McDonald's restaurant in Manhattan. Sforza claims that officers responding to the incident failed to exercise due diligence in not taking seriously her claim that she was the victim of a hate crime, that they subjected her to false arrest and that they further abused her while in their custody. All charges against Christina Sforza were dropped on Thursday, October 26.
"The NYPD needs to conduct an immediate and impartial investigation into the incident -- and hold accountable anyone found responsible for abuses," said Michael Heflin, director of OUTfront, Amnesty International USA's program on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights. "If Sforza's allegations are substantiated, these are serious human rights violations. The allegations of mistreatment by police are especially troubling because they fit a pattern of abuses that Amnesty International has documented."
Amnesty International members around the world are writing letters to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly urging his immediate attention to the issue.
Sforza asserts that she is not guilty of the charges that were filed against her -- "assault with intent to cause physical injury" and "harassment in the second degree." She says that she was the one who was physically assaulted on July 10 at the McDonald's restaurant at 341 Fifth Avenue by a man she believes to be the manager. Sforza reports that after being in the bathroom for a minute or two the manager began yelling, "I'm going to kill you, faggot." She alleges that when she opened the door the manager hit her across the head with a lead pipe and kept hitting her in the head, torso and groin, and on her arms when she tried to protect herself. Sforza told Amnesty International that other staff and customers were cheering and yelling "kill the fag."
One of Sforza's friends called the police, but when they came she says they refused to listen to her side of the story and arrested her after the manager claimed she had assaulted him. Sforza reports that officers verbally abused her, refused to allow Emergency Medical Services personnel on the scene to examine her injuries and denied her access to diabetes medicine essential to her wellbeing while she was detained overnight.
Amnesty International is concerned that the alleged violations in this case may constitute discriminatory behavior, torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, false arrest, failure to exercise due diligence, and denial of access to justice.
Amnesty International's Stonewalled report, released in September 2005, documented numerous incidents of alleged inappropriate police responses to violence against transgender persons and found that transgender people are at heightened risk of police abuse. The report found that police officers often do not respond appropriately to "hate crimes" in which a transgender person is the alleged victim. This includes failure to properly investigate and document the "hate crime" as well as sometimes blaming the victim and even arresting or threatening to arrest the victim of the "hate crime."
"This is about accountability and this is about justice," said Heflin. "The NYPD has a choice -- it can show it cares about ensuring justice for all people, or it can turn a blind eye."