From a traffic-violation arrest on March 2, 2019, a trans woman was incarcerated at the Weber County jail. The incident occurred while Ella Mae Vail and her girlfriend were passing through Utah on their way to Virginia.
According to reports, Vail was following behind behind a slow semi-truck and signaled to pass it. While she said the light blinked a few times, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper pulled her over for not signaling for the required two seconds.
In the probable cause statement, the state trooper who pulled Vail over also said he could smell marijuana from withing the vehicle, as well as found a pipe, marijuana and rolling papers in the car. Vail admitted however to smoking it hours earlier.
Vail was arrested and then booked into jail according to her anatomy and the information on her driver’s license, which identifies her as a man.
Reportedly and deservedly, Vail fearing for her safety asked the trooper if she’d be safe while held in jail. To which he said, “Yeah, you’ll be safe.”
But it remained unclear whether Vail would be housed with male or female inmates.
Vail was placed with the male population, evidently because the jail hasn’t yet crafted a formal policy on transgender inmates, with the housing decision typically made based on the gender designation on the state-issued ID or their anatomy, specifically whether they’ve had sex reassignment surgery.
While Vail said most of the correctional officers showed her respect and used her preferred name and pronouns and seemed to care about her well-being, the male inmates continuously harassed her, to which she hurt herself to be sequestered in a mental health ward.
Data shows fears about Vail’s safety while incarcerated were based on the experiences of other transgender inmates.
Statistics from the Department of Justice from 2011-12 indicate that about 40 percent of transgender inmates in state or federal prison have reported some kind of sexual victimization. An estimated 27 percent of transgender inmates in local jails reported sexual abuse.
At Vail’s bail hearing on March 11, the judge lowered the $2,200 bail amount to $200. And after posting bond, Vail and her girlfriend continued to Virginia on March 12. Whether Vail must return to Utah in April for a scheduled court appearance is pending, according to her attorney.
QSaltlake Magazine‘s request for an interview was refused.
PHOTO courtesy of Weber County jail