Advertisement
  1. News

India Clarke murder puts focus on transgender sensitivity training among Tampa Bay area law enforcement

India Clarke, 25, a transgender woman, was found dead at the University Area Community Center Tuesday morning. Her death, which is being investigated as a homicide, has gotten a lot of local and national attention. Some of her friends, who she knew from childhood and the local LGBT community, are holding a vigil at the park where she was found a 7 p.m.
Published Jul. 25, 2015

When the St. Petersburg Police Department created an LGBT community liaison position a year ago, transgender advocates were the first to reach out.

They invited Lt. Markus Hughes to their annual downtown vigil, welcomed him to meetings, skeptically probed him about their fears. What will happen at a traffic stop? Will cops assume they're prostitutes?

"They are worried about not being respected for who they are," Hughes said. "I don't think officers want to treat people poorly or disrespect them. I just think it's a lack of knowledge in certain areas."

For local transgender advocates, getting law enforcement agencies to adopt inclusive policies is a work in progress. None of the largest Tampa Bay agencies have specific transgender sensitivity training, including the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which along with local media, was lambasted for misreporting the gender identity of a victim of homicide this week.

India Clarke, 25, was found dead Tuesday in a North Tampa park. Initial reports referenced her given name, Samuel Elijah Clarke, and said she was a man found in women's clothing, despite friends and family sharing that she'd identified as female for years.

Based on anatomy, the medical examiner determined India Clarke was male, said Dick Bailey, spokesman for that office. Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said his agency follows similar protocol when sharing information about a victim or suspect.

Sheriff's policy forbids making "vulgar or derogatory remarks" based on "sexual and gender orientation," among other categories, such as race and religion. But the agency does not specifically train its officers on LGBT issues.

McKinnon said the Sheriff's Office doesn't support singling out one sector of the LGBT community; he likened it to providing special protection for one religious sect but not another.

Advocates argue, however, that once law enforcement officials know a person's chosen gender, they should adhere to it. McKinnon's updates on Clarke's murder have never referred to her as female.

Last month in Tampa, the Department of Justice offered training to Central Florida law enforcement agencies. It was part of a larger effort launched last year by the U.S. Attorney General's Office to educate law enforcement officers about the transgender community.

Eleven people, both LGBT advocates and law enforcement officers, attended. Representatives from the Tampa and St. Petersburg police departments and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office were there. The sheriff's offices of Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties did not attend.

Gina Duncan, the transgender inclusion director for Equality Florida, said the training won't help if agencies don't utilize it.

Frank Roder, co-chairman of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, attended the workshop. His group focuses primarily on improving attitudes toward LGBT students in schools, but when the organization held its own training session for educators on Wednesday, the Tampa Police Department sent nine school resource officers.

The Tampa Police Department has three LGBT liaisons, and the department plans to add gender identity to its policy on searching inmates and its department's diversity training.

Roder said that when the discussion turned to transgender issues — and India Clarke's slaying — officers were unsure which words to use, but asked many questions, such as how to address a person whose gender expression differed from the name on their driver's license.

They all agreed respect was a priority, Roder said.

"It opened up some eyes," he said. "Respect is respect. If you don't respect somebody, they won't respect you."

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office does not have LGBT-specific training, but does offer their deputies and correctional officers training for how to handle LGBT inmates. That will be expanded in August, a spokeswoman said.

Two officials from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office also attended the DOJ training session. Sgt. Cinda Lillibridge hopes to become the agency's internal trainer on LGBT issues, but is still in the process of becoming certified.

Karen and Linda Schrader, a married couple from Spring Hill, said they're willing to serve as transgender-sensitivity trainers for the Hernando sheriff's office, once the agency becomes certified.

Schrader, 54, has experienced the need for such training firsthand. In June last year, she was pulled over by a law enforcement official in Hernando County for a seat belt violation — her dress was caught in the buckle, and it became unfastened.

The officer acted politely toward her, she said. But when she saw the ticket he gave her, it identified her as male, even though her driver's license listed her as female.

"It comes down to a matter of respect," Schrader said. "I'm a transgender woman, period. I don't care what I was born."

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Joshua Michael Nichols, 21, was arrested by Pasco County Sheriff's deputies on Saturday in connection to the early morning shooting death of an unidentified man during an argument outside a Spring Hill home. [Pasco County Sheriff's Office] ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    One person is in custody. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
  2. Yesterday• Pasco
    Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, received his third “Paul Harris Award.” the highest recognition from the Rotary Club, on Aug. 15. The pin was presented to Dr. Musunuru, a nationally-recognized cardiologist, by Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins in recognition of his humanitarian and philanthropic services to the people of Pasco County and the State of Florida for nearly 40 years. Pictured: Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, (left) and Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins. Jemith Rosa/Hudson Rotary Club
    News and notes about your neighbors
  3. A Lancaster County Sheriff's deputy walks around the Old Skool Sports Bar and Grill, the scene of a shooting early in the morning, north of Lancaster, S.C. on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  Lancaster County Sherriff's Office said in a statement that the agency was investigating a fatal shooting that also injured several people.  (Jessica Holdman/The Post And Courier via AP) JESSICA HOLDMAN  |  AP
    Two adult males were shot and killed.
  4. Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, right, listens to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, during the Youth Climate Summit at United Nations headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez) EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ  |  AP
    Swedish 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg started the climate strike movement with her lone protest in front of her country’s parliament.
  5. Stay with tampabay.com for the latest news and updates. Times
    She was not in a crosswalk when she was hit, troopers say.
  6. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. JAMAL THALJI  |  Tampa Bay Times
    John Clark used a shotgun to kill his mother and another man. Then he returned to the crime scene with a shotgun, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  8. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  9. The main exhibit center at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa once stirred the imagination with dinosaurs and stars. Now, it's empty, but on the verge of rebirth as a movie studio.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.
  10. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP
    Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement