Updates on the CeCe McDonald Case

by: Jamie Anne Royce

Photo credit: transfeminism.tumblr.com

Background:

CeCe McDonald, a black transgender woman, was walking with a group of friends past Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis on June 5, 2011. Words were exchanged, including racist and transphobic slurs, between the group and Dean Schmitz, a white cisgender man, and other white bar patrons who were outside smoking, according to court documents filed at the time.

Schmitz and his friends called CeCe and her friends “faggots,” “niggers,” and “chicks with dicks,” and suggested that CeCe was “dressed as a woman” in order to “rape” Schmitz, according to SupportCeCe.com. A fight ensued, and one of the attackers threw a glass and cut McDonald’s face. Schmitz was fatally stabbed, dying at the scene. McDonald was charged with murder.

McDonald plead guilty May 2 to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter with a recommended 41 month prison sentence in connection with the incident. She will be sentenced June 4. The judge will apply time served and “good time” to her sentence, so McDonald will likely serve an additional 20 months in prison, not an additional 41 months.

Updates:

McDonald was the only person arrested in connection with the incident until May 11, 2012, when the Washington County prosecutor charged Molly Shannon Flaherty with second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and third-degree assault causing substantial bodily harm for allegedly smashing a glass in McDonald’s face during the melee. Both charges are felonies, carring a maximum sentence of seven years  and five years in prison, respectively.

McDonald’s case was handled by Hennepin County prosecutors, but Washington County will be handling Flaherty’s case to avoid a conflict of interest.

Flaherty was booked into the Hennepin County jail May 15, and she was released the next day on $15,000 bail.

Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney prosecuting McDonald, wrote the following e-mail to blogger and activist Brandon Lacy Campos regarding McDonald’s case and the decision to prosecute Flaherty. Freeman writes that McDonald did not cooperate with the prosecution for fear of incriminating herself, so prosecutors could not charge Flaherty until McDonald’s trial was over. He also explains that he agreed to McDonald’s plea because “we thought it served justice for the family of the stabbing victim, but also was appropriate for Ms. McDonald.” Read the full letter below:

Good afternoon,

Last month, I wrote to many of you because you had contacted our office about our handling of the Chrishaun McDonald case. I want to update you now on significant actions around that case.

Recently, the Washington County Attorney’s Office charged Molly Shannon Flaherty with one count of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and one count of third-degree assault-substantial bodily harm for attacking Ms. McDonald on June 5, 2011, outside the Schooner bar.

As I mentioned several times during the months leading up to Ms. McDonald’s trial, we immediately sent the case to Washington County because it would have been a conflict of interest if we had charged the case against Ms. Flaherty at the same time we had charged the homicide case against Ms. McDonald. Washington County Attorney Peter Orput stated after the charges were filed May 11, that he would have filed the charges last summer, but he needed to talk to Ms. McDonald and get her medical records. Ms. McDonald’s lawyers were afraid that information could be used against her in the murder case and advised her not to cooperate with Mr. Orput, a position both we and Mr. Orput understand and respect. It is my understanding that Ms. McDonald’s attorneys no longer have this concern, and Ms. McDonald is helping put together a strong case against Ms. Flaherty.

As you probably know, we entered into a plea agreement with Ms. McDonald that dropped the charge from second-degree murder to second-degree manslaughter in the stabbing death of an unarmed victim. Instead of facing a possible sentence of 27 years in prison if convicted, Ms. McDonald will be sentenced to 41 months, and with time served and good behavior, she should be released in just over two years. We agreed to this negotiated resolution because we thought it served justice for the family of the stabbing victim, but also was appropriate for Ms. McDonald.

I want to reiterate, our role as prosecutors is to examine the facts provided by police investigators and determine if there is sufficient admissible evidence to bring a charge. It is our mission to serve justice and public safety. Gender, race, sexual orientation and class are not part of the decision-making process. That is how we handled Ms. McDonald’s case from beginning to end. That is how we try to serve in every case we review. We cannot, and do not, let popular opinion determine how we handle cases.

However, it is important that we fully serve all members of our community and, therefore, we do listen to the comments and concerns about the justice system. We understand that some in the LGBTQ community may continue to disagree with the way we handled the McDonald case and that is their right. However, I renew my pledge to continue to work with all our residents to make this office receptive to your concerns. We know Hennepin County has a large LGBTQ community and it is our duty to make sure your voice is heard so that safety and justice is achieved for all.

Mike Freeman
Hennepin County Attorney

Activists have continued to rally in support of McDonald, hosting noise demonstrations outside Hennepin County Jail. According to visitor reports on PrettyQueer.com, McDonald can hear demonstrators from inside the jail, and appreicates their support.

McDonald is allowed four people on her social visitation list. Social visitors are allowed non-contact visits three times per week, speaking via telephone for 20 minutes and separated by bullet-proof glass.

“When I first started going in to see her, [jail staff] treated me like crap, verbally harassing me and verbally harassing CeCe,” said Katie Burgess, executive director of the Transgender Youth Support Network, to PrettyQueer.com. “As time has continued, we have seen that really change because they know who we are and we’ve been coming for 10 months now. Some of the security officers actually stand up for us to other deputies. We’re really changing the culture there.”

Burgess also reports to PrettyQueer.com that their support efforts have directly contributed to prison staff using correct pronouns with McDonald: “There are at least one or two deputies there who consistently would not use her preferred pronouns, and there were a few of us who have gotten into a variety of arguments with them over the course of her time there, and we’re actually seeing them change and use appropriate pronouns.”

Incarcerated transgender people are often housed in facilities reflecting their legal sex, as is the case with McDonald. They are also often placed in solitary confinement where they are usually in a cell 23 hours per day and have little to no outside contact, as McDonald was placed when she was first arrested. She is currently housed in the psychiatric ward, a smaller section of the jail, where she requested to be housed. She has access to television, board games and books, as well as other inmates.

McDonald’s living accommodations will likely change after sentencing. Felony inmates are usually housed in state prisons, not local jails, as they prepare to live long-term in incarceration. Visitation, privileges and accommodations vary by facility and the level of security at the prison. There are four men’s prisons in Minnesota, and she could be placed in any of them, up to four hours away from friends and family.

Supporters of McDonald have made a video chronicling the history of her case, protests of her incarceration and suggestions on how to support her. Watch it here.

Note: This post was originally featured on Stuff Queer People Need to Know and was reposted with permission. You can find the original here.

Jamie Royce is a fierce fancy femme and mobile media machine, working as a freelance writer, reporter, editor and photojournalist. She also blogs at Stuff Queer People Need To Know.

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