A Black transgender woman who spent almost six months in jail after she was arrested on a “bogus” cocaine charge was recently awarded $1.5 million by a federal jury.
According to The New York Times, the 2015 incident occurred after two Atlanta police officers stopped Ju’Zema Goldring for jaywalking. Upon conducting a search on her, Officers Vladimir Henry and Juan Restrepo found a stress ball in her possession. The officers ultimately sliced the stress ball to investigate its contents. Henry and Restrepo later claimed the ball contained cocaine though it was just “the interior contents of a stress ball,” a 2018 lawsuit filed by the plaintiff stated.
The lawsuit also stated the officers subjected Goldring to transgender slurs and performed an “invasive search” on her. She was in a dress at the time.
Goldring was subsequently arrested and detained on suspicion of trafficking cocaine. That was despite the fact that tests conducted on the ball came back as negative. She was eventually released from jail after almost six months, but that was after an independent test conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation also determined there wasn’t any cocaine in the ball, FOX 5 Atlanta reported.
To further prove the stress ball did not contain any cocaine, attorneys also conducted a series of tests before a jury during the trial. “The test was negative, and he charged her anyway,” said attorney Jeff Filipovits in a statement.
“Everyone on the jury saw that the test was negative. It should not have taken seven years and a federal jury trial to bring this to light. It’s terrifying to think what other abuses the City of Atlanta has tolerated that haven’t gotten our attention. Our client was obviously profiled, as are so many others.”
In his ruling last Thursday, Judge William Ray II said Goldring deserved “some semblance of justice” for the way she was treated, The New York Times reported. “She spent nearly six months in the Fulton County Jail based on this seemingly bogus charge,” Judge Ray, whose ruling came two days after the jury’s decision, added.
Responding to the verdict on Tuesday, a member of Goldring’s legal team, Miguel A. Dominguez, said “this whole ordeal has had a tremendous negative impact on her life.” Dominguez also said Goldring had nightmares and mental health problems as a result of “being locked up as an innocent person for 23 hours a day.”
During her time in jail, Goldring’s lawyers said she was detained in an area reserved for people who identify as transgender women. That, however, did not prevent her from being sexually abused.
The jury determined the amount awarded to Goldring should be paid by Henry. But despite that verdict, one of Goldring’s lawyers told The New York Times that the city usually foots the bill in such cases. The Atlanta City Council will deliberate on that.
Meanwhile, Officers Henry and Restrepo are still at post, a spokesperson for the Atlanta Police Department told the news outlet.