Nebraska Supreme Urged to Correct Injustice in Brandon Appeal

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Dozens of organizations file supporting briefs to Nebraska Supreme Court
October 2, 2000

(NEW YORK, Monday, October 2, 2000) — A significant group of 31 civil rights and victims’ advocacy organizations are joining Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in appealing the meager amount awarded for a county sheriff’s failure to protect Brandon Teena from a brutal murder.

Among those groups supporting Lambda in its appeal on behalf of the victim’s mother are the American Civil Liberties Union, National Organization for Women, Southern Poverty Law Center, Parents of Murdered Children, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, American Public Health Association, and Anti-Defamation League.

“Like Lambda, these organizations are committed to proving that everyone - regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, or any other factor - should be able to rely on law enforcement for protection against hate-motivated violence, least of all should anyone have to fear being put in danger because of the police’s own bias,”said Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn.

The critically acclaimed film,“Boys Don’t Cry” and documentary, “The Brandon Teena Story,” chronicle the tragic events that led to Brandon’s death.

Born Teena Brandon and raised as a girl, he was living as a man known as Brandon Teena in Falls City, Nebraska, when he was murdered at age 21. In December of 1993, two men who discovered his sex raped him. His attackers later shot and killed him after learning Brandon had reported the rape and was to help police in the investigation.

Richardson County Sheriff Charles B. Laux not only notified the rapists of Brandon’s complaint, but took no steps to protect him, despite his agreement to assist the sheriff and strong evidence that his life was in danger Laux, who had been abusive and accusatory while interviewing Brandon about the rape, even forbade a deputy from arresting the pair.

Joann Brandon, the victim’s mother and representative of the estate, sued 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. In 1999, the trial court agreed the sheriff was negligent, but in its ruling assessed just $17,360.97 in damages against him.

“A hefty price tag is necessary to ensure that law enforcement officials take seriously hate-motivated violence, and do not put someone in worse danger for turning to police for help,” Lambda Senior Staff Attorney David Buckel, who is assisted in the case by Staff Attorneys Doni Gewirtzman and Marvin Peguese.

The Nebraska Supreme Court will hear Joann Brandon v. County of Richardson, Nebraska as early as the first week of November, having ordered the appeal to bypass the intermediate appellate court.

Lambda is co-counsel with Herbert J. Friedman of Friedman Law Offices and Michael J. Hansen of Berry, Kelley, and Hansen both of Lincoln, Nebraska.

The appeal argues, 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 shifting most damages for the sheriff’s negligence to the individuals whose violence the sheriff was duty-bound to prevent.


The friend-of-the-court arguments include discussion of a child’s inherent value to a parent, the shameful history of law enforcement’s blame-the-victim approach to rape and other hate violence, and the high rate of violence against transgendered people.

Joann Brandon v. County of Richardson, Nebraska Amici in Support of Plaintiff-Appellant

  • American Civil Liberties Union Foundation
  • American Orthopsychiatric Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Anti-Defamation League
  • Association for Women in Psychology
  • FTM International
  • Gender Education and Advocacy
  • Gender Public Advocacy Coalition
  • International Foundation for Gender Education
  • Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women
  • National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium
  • National Center for Victims of Crime
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
  • National Organization for Women Foundation
  • National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • National Sexual Violence Resource Center
  • National Youth Advocacy Coalition
  • Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition
  • Northwest Policy Institute
  • Oregon Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • Parents of Murdered Children
  • Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
  • People for the American Way
  • Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • Renaissance Transgender Association
  • Southern Poverty Law Center
  • Sexual Assault Report
  • Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press

Lambda is the nation’s largest legal organization for lesbians, gay men and people with HIV/AIDS. Headquartered in New York, Lambda has offices in Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.

(Joann Brandon v. County of Richardson, Nebraska, No. 15873)

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Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
David Buckel 212-809-8585 x 212


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