Lambda Appeals Against Sheriff in Brandon Teena Murder
Civil rights group seeks penalties to send message that law enforcement must protect transgendered people, gay men, lesbians and other minorities
(NEW YORK, February 2, 2000) — Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Wednesday announced that it will litigate the Nebraska appeal of a meager trial court award against a county whose sheriff failed to protect Brandon Teena from a brutal 1993 murder.
This year’s popular film,“Boys Don’t Cry” and documentary, “The Brandon Teena Story,” chronicle Brandon’s life and tragic death. Born female and named Teena Brandon, he was living as a man in Falls City, Nebraska, when he was murdered at age 21.
In 1993, two men raped Brandon after discovering his sex; shortly after he reported the rape to the sheriff, the men tracked Brandon down and shot and killed him. The killers were later arrested and convicted of murder.
Joann Brandon, the victim’s mother and representative of the estate, sued Richardson County Sheriff Charles B. Laux because he negligently failed to protect Brandon between the time of the rape and the murder and was abusive in interviewing him about the rape. The trial court’s opinion yielded mixed results, including a finding of negligence but with just $23,520 in damages.
“In a sickening catch-22, when Brandon reported that he’d been brutally raped, he faced hostility rather than compassion and protection from the sheriff,” said Lambda Staff Attorney David Buckel, who is working on the case with Staff Attorney Doni Gewirtzman. Buckel added, “The sheriff actually notified the attackers of Brandon’s report and then failed to ensure his safety.”
Said Beatrice Dohrn, Lambda’s legal director, “We hope to expose and help end the senseless epidemic of hate violence against members of our communities. No one, regardless of labels like gay or transgendered, should be attacked or mistreated because they are perceived to be different. One way to ensure protection is to put a price tag on law enforcement’s disregard for people who are victimized simply for who they are.”
On the appeal, Lambda joins as co-counsel the lawyers who have handled the case thus far, Herbert J. Friedman of Friedman Law Offices and Michael J. Hansen of Berry, Kelley, and Hansen of Lincoln, Nebraska. The suit, Joann Brandon v. County of Richardson, Nebraska, will contend that the trial court made several significant legal errors that led to an unacceptably small recovery.
The appeal will argue, among other things, that the trial court made a legal error on the apportionment of damages where a duty to protect was violated. Specifically, the trial court was mistaken in allowing the sheriff’s employer to escape paying damages by apportioning responsibility to the murderers. Lambda and co-counsel also will argue that the sheriff’s department should have anticipated the grave danger of further violence when it alerted the murderers that the rape had been reported without arresting them or protecting Brandon.
Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
David Buckel 212-809-8585 x 212