Video shows corrections officer drop transgender woman on her face in Baltimore corrections facility

Video shows corrections officer drop transgender woman on her face in Baltimore corrections facility
Provided by Attorney Malcolm Ruff

Video of a transgender woman being held in a chokehold by a Baltimore corrections officer, then dropped on her face and dragged, was released by her attorney as part of a civil lawsuit against the state and several of the officers allegedly involved.

Amber Canter was being held at the Baltimore City Central Booking & Intake Center when the incident happened in June 2019, her civil complaint says. Canter suffered bone fractures in her face, severe bruising to the left side of her forehead, internal bleeding behind her right eye and pneumocephalus​, and had to be taken to an intensive care unit, the complaint says.

The video was provided to CNN by Canter’s attorney Malcolm Ruff. He said the video is from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, which represents the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (MDPSCS), the department in charge of the intake center. The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services declined to comment on the civil lawsuit to CNN.

Canter first filed a lawsuit over the incident on her own in August 2019, Ruff told CNN. ​He and another attorney filed an amended complaint on November 30 ​this year. The amended complaint adds additional legal language and screenshots of the video.

Her lawsuit names Officer Zanel Santana as the officer who held her in the chokehold and dropped her. It also names Officer Uchenna Okeke and Sgt. Monyette Washington, along with the facility’s security chief and warden, the secretary of Maryland’s corrections department, and the state of Maryland. CNN has reached out to the Maryland governor, the state attorney general’s office and the individual defendants named in the civil and criminal cases for comment.

Canter claims violations of her federal and state civil rights, as well as negligence and assault and battery. She is suing for a minimum of $75,000 in compensatory damages for each of 11 counts but is requesting that a jury ultimately decide both the total compensatory and punitive damages, Ruff said.

The lawsuit is in addition to a larger look by officials of the incident. Santana was charged with first-degree assault and two counts of misconduct in office in March of this year, a news release from the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City shows. Washington and Okeke were charged with two counts of misconduct in office per person, they continued.

In addition to the alleged assault, the state’s attorney also alleges the officers submitted internal reports that concealed details about the incident, such as the specific maneuvers used to restrain Canter and the extent of her injuries. They have not yet pleaded in their case as their court hearings keep getting delayed, Ruff said.

The attorneys for the defendants with criminal charges have not responded to CNN’s request for comment.

At the time of the charges, MDPSCS Secretary Robert Green said in the state’s attorney news release that their department “will not tolerate violence against inmates, just as we will not tolerate it against our staff.”

“If the allegations are true, they represent behavior that tarnishes the badge of every correctional professional,” he continued.

Canter’s attorneys said in a statement to CNN they will not let ​her treatment “go unaddressed.”

“We will not let this apparent hate crime, committed under the watch of the Maryland prison system, go unaddressed,” Ruff and attorney William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr. said. “Amber has long fought for transgender rights and has vigorously complained about the state correctional system’s mistreatment of her and other members of the LGBTQ inmate community.”

“Such senseless brutality against the transgender community cannot and will not be tolerated, no matter where it occurs,” they continued.

What precedes the video

Canter’s lawsuit says that during her detention, Canter “became notoriously known by Central Booking correctional officers and staff as a persistent advocate and activist for transgender inmate rights,” challenging the facility’s policies and practices toward transgender inmates. Ruff told CNN that Canter was being housed with male inmates.

On June 14, 2019, according to Canter’s complaint, a corrections officer told Canter they intended to transfer her to a different facility that day, and if she wasn’t, then she would be given recreational time outside her cell.

This corrections officer, the lawsuit says, relayed this to another corrections officer taking charge of Canter, who — in front of her — allegedly responded that she “(did not) give a f**k, this (f****t) will not get nothing extra!”

Ultimately, Canter wasn’t transferred to the other facility, and as she was returned to her cell she saw other detainees having recreational time, her lawsuit says. She asked Okeke whether she, too, could have recreational time, to which the officer who previously called her a derogatory term allegedly cursed at Canter and called her the derogatory term again.

That corrections officer attempted to lock Canter in her cell for the evening, but Canter refused, because the other corrections officer had promised her time outside her cell, according to the lawsuit. Canter asked for a supervisor to come, her lawsuit says, and when there was no response, “Amber then went into a nearby sally port, sat on the floor in the middle of the room in protest,” and said she wouldn’t move until a supervisor responded.

Santana then arrived, stood behind Canter, and allegedly shouted to Washington: “Mace this f**king d*ck sucker!”

The video footage

In the video, Canter can be seen seated on the ground in a yellow jumpsuit, surrounded by the three correctional officers. The facility’s coordinator of the emergency mental health and psychology department allegedly stopped outside the room, according to the civil complaint. Santana shouted at her to “mind your own business,” the complaint says. CNN could not independently confirm this comment as the video provided contains no audio.

After the coordinator left, Santana wrapped his right arm around Canter’s neck in a chokehold and then brought his left arm around for a tighter grip, the complaint says. The video shows an officer lifting Canter to her feet and off the ground while keeping her in the chokehold.

The chokehold used by Santana on Canter is “expressly forbidden according to DPSCS use of force training directives,” Canter’s lawsuit says, but it was also “an attempt to cause Amber as much pain as possible.” The criminal complaint against Santana also characterizes the move as an “unauthorized and illegal ‘choke hold.'”

An officer is seen carrying her from the room into a common area with the help of another officer, who grabs Canter’s right arm. The complaint describes the first officer’s actions in the footage as “chok(ing) Amber so violently that she could not breathe and she was rendered unconscious in a matter of seconds.”

As the officer continues carrying an unconscious Canter in the chokehold across a common area, two other officers are seen walking beside the first. The complaint says Okeke supported Canter’s right side and Washington “made no attempt to intervene on Amber’s behalf.”

Next, the lawsuit says, “without any lawful or justifiable purpose,” Santana intentionally dropped Canter’s limp body, and she fell face-first onto the concrete floor. Then, the video shows, two of the officers take Canter’s arms and drag her into another room.

Canter’s injuries and the legal fallout

None of the officers “sought any medical treatment for Amber for more than ten minutes​,” following her injuries, and ​”she luckily regained consciousness during this timeframe,” the lawsuit says. Washington took Canter to the Central Booking medical unit, where ​they determined her injuries were “very serious.” They transferred her to the intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the lawsuit says.

Canter was diagnosed with several bone fractures in her face, severe bruising to the left side of her forehead, internal bleeding behind her right eye, as well as pneumocephalus, the lawsuit says.

While at Johns Hopkins, Canter complained about the assault to a hospital staff social worker, who called facility supervisors, advising them of the complaint, Canter’s lawsuit says.​

When Canter was finally returned to Central Booking, staff “refused to allow Amber to attend all her medical appointments in retaliation for her complaints of being assaulted​,” ​her lawsuit alleges. Mobley, upon seeing Canter, allegedly stated, “I see your f****t a** got what was coming to you!”

Three days after the incident, her lawsuit says, Canter received a notice of infraction that cited her for disobeying an order, being disrespectful, engaging in a disruptive act and making threats to the officers, according to the complaint.

Santana, Washington and Okeke are due in court March 16 regarding their criminal charges, according to court records.

Canter also has a pending request for a preliminary injunction in front of the same judge related to medical care for her gender dysphoria, her attorney told CNN.

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