Damages in Boys Dont Cry Murder Argued Before Nebraska Supreme Court

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Lambda appeals meager award against abusive sheriff who ignored dangers to victimLambda appeals meager award against abusive sheriff who ignored dangers to victim
January 11, 2001

(NEW YORK, January 11, 2001) - Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund is urging Nebraska's highest court to hold a Richardson County sheriff more accountable for his failure to protect a rape victim, who was raped and later killed because of his gender identity. Born female and named Teena Brandon, the victim was living as a man in Falls City, Nebraska, when he was murdered at age 21.

"It is tragic when any parent loses a child to violent crime, but when that crime could have been avoided had law enforcement done its job instead of reacting with hate towards the victim, it becomes an outrage," said Senior Staff Attorney David S. Buckel. He added, "Reporting a crime should not make matters worse, even deadly, no matter who the victim is. Bias and victim abuse have no place in law enforcement."

The Nebraska Supreme Court is to hear argument Friday in the appeal by Brandon's mother. Joann Brandon of Lincoln sued the now former sheriff because he negligently failed to protect her child during the time between 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 only a paltry award of $17,360.97 in damages for Brandon's death.

Brandon's tragic murder for who he was and law enforcement's failure to treat Brandon appropriately inspired the award-winning 1999 film "Boys Don't Cry" and the documentary "The Brandon Teena Story."

In 1993, two male acquaintances raped Brandon after discovering his physical sex. Shortly afterward, he reported the rape to then-sheriff Laux, who not only notified the rapists of the complaint, but took no steps to protect Brandon, despite Brandon's 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, who then tracked Brandon down and shot and killed him. The killers were later arrested and convicted of murder.

Said Ruth E. Harlow, Lambda's legal director, "This sheriff dismissed the value of Brandon's life and treated him with disrespect. We can't let the courts do the same thing. In this case, Lambda links arms with the civil rights community and our Nebraska members and friends to call upon the law to play the role it should against crime, rather than adding to bias and stigma."

The significance of the Brandon case is reflected by the 33 civil rights and victims' advocacy organizations that have joined Lambda in its appeal. Among them are the American Civil Liberties Union, American Public Health Association, Anti-Defamation League, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Organization for Women, Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition, Parents of Murdered Children, and Southern Poverty Law Center.

Lambda and Herbert J. Friedman of Friedman Law Offices are appearing on behalf of Joann Brandon. Lambda is the nation's largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of 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. S-00-0022)

Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 1-888-987-1984 (pager)
David Buckel 212-809-8585 x 212



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