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Arts & Culture

Criminal: Transgender Woman Spurs Reform In D.C. Jail System

Illustration for Criminal podcast
Julienne Alexander

In 2009, Patti Hammond Shaw was arrested for assault in Washington D.C.  When she arrived at the police station, she was placed in a holding section with male inmates.  Shaw protested, but it did no good.

Shaw is a transgender woman. Her story is the subject of the latest episode of Criminal, a podcast produced in the studios of WUNC and hosted by Phoebe Judge.  

Here's how Shaw describes herself.

"I'm 5'7". I'm thick. I'm very attractive, like Jill Scott and Chaka Khan, a combo of those two," said Shaw. "A very strong woman. Very independent. Very cautious of who I allow in my circle."

The day of the arrest in 2009, Shaw was at her D.C. apartment with a man who lived with her. They got into a fight, and she was arrested for assault. When she arrived at the station, the police insisted she was male.

Back in the early 1980s, Patti Hammond Shaw was arrested, but her gender then was listed as male. The D.C. police department uses a database called PDID to record information for everyone who has been through the system. It includes basic facts like name, date of birth and gender. 

Because of that previous record as a male, Shaw was detained in a men's cell block.  

"They made me take off my clothes," Shaw said. "They made me be the first one. The rest of the other guys were in another part of the cell. Then they searched between my legs, told me to open my legs."

After that, Shaw was verbally assaulted for hours, threatened by the men waiting to be charged. She also said officers treated her terribly and refused to listen to her.

Eventually Shaw's charges were dropped. The man she was charged with assaulting didn't even show up to court. With her charges gone, Shaw went on the offensive and sued the city and police department and won.

"There was financial compensation, but the most important thing is she was able to start reforms for this PDID system, which (now) says your gender can be changed," Judge said. "If this ever happens again, hopefully it won't be a problem."

To find out more, visit Also, you can hear the latest episode of Criminal on WUNC on Sunday evening at 5:40 p.m.

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