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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Attack on transgender woman prompts call for action

Varied crowd attends City Council meeting

Jacina Carla Scamahorn, a transgender woman who said she was punched and kicked in the face last week, spoke at Monday night’s Spokane City Council meeting. (Colin Mulvany)

An assault on a transgender woman at Boots Bakery Friday night has led to calls for better training of Spokane police as an impassioned crowd urged the City Council to take action.

Two men punched and kicked Jacina Carla Scamahorn in the face, breaking several bones in her face. The attack by the men who reportedly had been drinking at Zola, a bar next door to the bakery along West Main Avenue.

Johnny Dandurand, the Boots server who witnessed the attack, said the men came into the bakery demanding to see Jacina, whom they referred to as a man. He tried to get in between them, but eventually called police when he said it was clear the situation was escalating. “It was pretty clear that neither of them were going to go anywhere until they did some kind of damage somehow,” he said.

Scamahorn said the police who responded to the assault call were disrespectful, referring to her as a man over the objections of Boots employees.

“Staff tried to correct them, and they basically told them to shut up,” she said.

Dandurand said police kept saying Scamahorn was uncooperative and didn’t appear to believe her version of events. “They’re basically treating it like she’s homeless and drunk and stumbled into Boots and fell down,” he said. “They’re treating it more like a nuisance than the hate crime it was.”

Scamahorn is homeless; she was eating food that Dandurand had given her before the attack.

She said she stepped outside the bakery, but went back in because the men at Zola were verbally harassing her. “They followed me in,” she said. “They were saying, ‘Maybe if you respected your parents and were a normal man, maybe you wouldn’t be homeless.’ ”

“Those are very psychologically damaging words, and those are things that shouldn’t be said about people,” she said.

She also said she’d like to see letters of apology from the officers and sensitivity training for the Police Department.

Police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said officers responded to an assault call at Boots around 10 p.m. Friday, but said she could not release details about the victim or name the police officers.

“We are in the process of investigating the facts surrounding the incident,” Cotton said, including the behavior of police officers.

Police have not arrested any suspects.

Cotton said officers recently had an in-service day of training focusing on cultural sensitivity to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Scamahorn’s story prompted a  request from Spokane’s Human Rights Commission for people to attend Monday’s City Council meeting to show support for transgender residents.

“An alleged assault inside a peaceful place of business is always a cause for concern, but when an incident reportedly includes hateful epithets and sends a citizen to the hospital, we need to stand up as a city and say this will not be tolerated,” Blaine Stum, of the Human Rights Commission, said in a news release.

About 150 people came to the City Council meeting, including members of the transgender and gay community, the NAACP and various churches. Almost everyone who spoke during public testimony asked council members to do more to help protect Spokane’s more vulnerable citizens. When the first speaker addressed the council, and again later when Scamahorn spoke, almost 50 people stood to show their support.

Deb Conklin, a member of the city’s Police Ombudsman Commission, said some people had a “special animosity” for gay and transgender people.

“These crimes are more serious and more heinous,” she said. “We as a community need to respond in an appropriate way.”

Tahlyke Chenevert, with the NAACP Spokane, said protecting members of Spokane’s transgender community is about protecting everyone.

“Transgender rights are human rights,” he said. “We are here today to support full justice.”

Alison Collins, who owns Boots with her husband, said she was proud to own a business where everyone was welcome. Still, she was disturbed by the police response and lack of immediate coverage by local media, a criticism mentioned by many.

“There are some real gaps in oversight,” she said.

Scamahorn, who was being interviewed by police when the council meeting began, pleaded for a safe haven for all.

“I was a child who was not supposed to be seen and never heard,” she said. “I do deserve a safe place to sleep. … This is not going to stop me from being myself.”

Staff writer Nicholas Deshais contributed to this story.