Brandon v. Richardson County

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Status: Closed
Outcome:
Landmark Case
Court:
Nebraska Supreme Court
Issues: Transgender Rights

Historic case arguing for a sheriff's culpability for his acts in the murder of a transgender man

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Summary

Born Teena Brandon and raised as a girl, Brandon Teena was living as a man when he was brutally raped and later killed in 1993 by two men who discovered he was transgender. The sheriff investigating the rape abusively questioned Brandon Teena, even though he was the victim. Teena reluctantly agreed to serve as a witness. Despite the duty to protect a witness who agrees to help law enforcement officials and strong evidence that Teena’s life was in danger, the sheriff not only notified the rapists that Teena had pressed charges against them but also took no steps to protect him, leading to his death. After the murder, Brandon Teena’s mother, JoAnn Brandon, sued. After a bad trial court ruling, Lambda Legal stepped in to help with the appeal. The Nebraska Supreme Court adopted Lambda Legal’s argument that the sheriff could not escape payment for his own negligence by shifting liability to the murderers, and that the sheriff’s abuse of Teena during the rape investigation was “extreme and outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency, and is to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” As a result, the damages awarded ultimately increased by $81,000.

Context

Brandon Teena’s life and death was the subject of the Oscar-winning movie called “Boys Don’t Cry.”

Lambda Legal's Impact

This case was one of the most important in LGBT history for helping to bring visibility to the transgender community, shedding light on the profound challenges transgender people encounter and moving the fight of transgender rights significantly forward. It also strengthened the principle that law enforcement officials must be held accountable for fair treatment of people who are the targets of hate crimes.