Transgender inmate challenging Florida prison laws found dead in cell

Justin Lee Naber, a Florida state prisoner who sought to be known legally as Stacy Lorraine Naber, was found dead in her cell on Aug. 6 at Dade Correctional Institution in Florida City. [Florida Department of Corrections, via Miami Herald]
Justin Lee Naber, a Florida state prisoner who sought to be known legally as Stacy Lorraine Naber, was found dead in her cell on Aug. 6 at Dade Correctional Institution in Florida City. [Florida Department of Corrections, via Miami Herald]
Published Aug. 16, 2016

Convicted killer Justin Lee Naber wrote in a handwritten lawsuit that it was "cruel and unusual punishment" to be forced to use a male name that no longer fit her gender. She wanted the name on her birth certificate to read "Stacy Lorraine Naber."

Now, the name Naber so despised will appear on another official record: her death certificate.

On Aug. 6, Naber was found dead in a cell at the Dade Correctional Institution, a long-troubled prison that has been the subject of several investigations. Michelle Glady, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections, confirmed the death but declined to provide details.

"Inmate Naber was pronounced deceased on August 6, 2016. At the time of the inmate's death, he was in administrative housing at Dade Correctional Institution and was housed alone. The death is currently under investigation by (the Florida Department of Law Enforcement), with assistance from the department's Office of the Inspector General," Glady said.

Naber's aunt, 60-year-old Lee Kahn, said Naber had hanged herself and family members want prison administrators to explain how an inmate who was ostensibly under protective supervision could end up dead.

"He was in protective custody, and yet he managed to hang himself," said Kahn, who still referred to her nephew using male pronouns that Naber rejected. "It struck me as odd."

"I always thought Justin would never grow old in prison," she said. "You can't be in that kind of place, and draw attention to yourself. And not just the prisoners, but the guards as well. … We're not really getting the answers."

The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office said its report on Naber's death is not yet complete.

Naber's legal challenge expired with him. On Aug. 10, Naber's attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Daniel Tilley, asked U.S. District Judge Robin L. Rosenberg, who was presiding over Naber's lawsuit, to dismiss the case. "Plaintiff's counsel writes to inform the court that Plaintiff Stacy Naber (legal name Justin Naber) has died," Tilley wrote in a one-paragraph notice. "At the request of Ms. Naber's authorized legal representative, Plaintiff's counsel files this notice of voluntary dismissal."

Tilley declined Monday to discuss Naber's death, citing concerns over the inmate's privacy.

Naber made headlines in suburban Pasco County when she was convicted of second-degree murder in November 2013. A jury agreed with prosecutors who claimed Naber stabbed a roommate to death amid an argument over rent money two years earlier. News accounts also linked Naber to the 2005 killing of a 73-year-old man in Albuquerque.

Naber was previously serving her life sentence at Okeechobee Correctional Institution. It was there that she filed a handwritten complaint in federal court asking a judge to order the FDC to allow her to change her name. She was later moved to Dade.

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"Inmate Naber has a gender identity disorder," the complaint said, and "identifies exclusively as a female person. Inmate Naber experiences severe mental anguish as inmate Naber is prohibited by law (from changing) his/her name to Stacy Lorraine Naber."

Last March, the American Civil Liberties Union adopted Naber's lawsuit and the result was a 24-page amended complaint that raised questions about the prison system's willingness to accommodate transgender inmates.

Naber and her lawyers argued that changing her name from traditionally male to female was a kind of psychological therapy, and, as such, a medically necessary treatment.

Naber "is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, her rights will never be restored, and thus she can never obtain a legal name change or be recognized by the name that accords with her gender identity for the remainder of her life," the suit said. "Though for a non-transgender person the adoption of a new name might be a matter of preference, for transgender people, a change of name is a form of medical treatment."

Corrections officials saw the conflict in different terms. Though Corrections Secretary Julie Jones offered the concession of referring to Naber using female pronouns —" her" and "she" and "herself" — the chief said FDC had "legitimate penalogical interests of security and administration" in ensuring inmates go only by the names they used when they were incarcerated.

Though Naber's lawsuit won't go forward, the state faces other transgender rights legal challenges.

On Monday afternoon, the ACLU announced it had filed another lawsuit "challenging the Florida Department of Corrections' denial of hormone therapy and other medically necessary treatment for a transgender woman currently detained in a state men's prison."

Monday's lawsuit was filed by 22-year-old Reiyn Keohane, a transgender woman who is serving a 15-year sentence at Everglades Correctional Institution for second-degree murder. She pleaded guilty to stabbing her roommate to death in Fort Myers. Her current release date is in March of 2028.

The ACLU said Keohane "has known that she has a female gender identity since the age of 12, and, with the support of medical professionals, has been living as female since age 14. At age 17, Keohane had her name legally changed from a traditionally male name, and began hormone therapy under the care of an endocrinologist at the age of 19."

Keohane's lawyers say their client was not allowed to continue hormone therapy while awaiting trial on murder charges, but struck a plea with prosecutors in 2014, "with the understanding that she would be allowed to return to her hormone therapy" after going to prison. "However, she has been repeatedly denied this treatment since her transfer," lawyers said in a prepared statement.