A transgender inmate at Lackawanna County Prison will resume hormone therapy treatment after a federal judge denied a motion that challenged an order mandating the medications.
U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani issued an emergency order late Friday directing the treatment for Steven Fritz, also known as Sparkles Wilson, based on evidence that she faces psychiatric trauma and physical harm if it is not provided.
Edward Zaloga, D.O., owner of the prison’s medical provider, Correctional Care Inc., initially defied the order and sought an emergency stay of its enforcement. Zaloga maintained the treatment may have side effects that could harm Fritz, 44, of Scranton.
Mariani rejected the request for a stay Monday, saying Zaloga presented no medical evidence to support his claim. He scheduled a hearing for July 17 to give the prison and Fritz an opportunity to present evidence that will determine if the order will remain in effect.
Fritz’s attorneys, Curt Parkins and Matthew Comerford of Scranton, filed a lawsuit Friday that alleges the prison and Zaloga are violating Fritz’s civil rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment for refusing to administer her Estrace and Premarin, two forms of estrogen, prescribed to aid her in her transition from a biological male to a female.
The lawsuit says Fritz had developed female features, including enlarged breasts. The deprivation of the hormones caused her body to revert back to a more masculine form, causing her mental anguish and physical harm. In addition to restoring treatment, the suit seeks more than $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Zaloga’s attorney, Joseph “Jody” Healey of Scranton, said Zaloga will comply with the order, but still has serious concerns about the potentially “catastrophic” side effects of the medications, which can include the development of blood clots, an embolism and deep vein thrombosis. The use of Premarin and Estrace on males is considered “off label,” which means a drug is being prescribed for uses other than what the FDA approved.
“It is not that the prison nor Dr. Zaloga were unwilling to administer these medications,” Healey said. “We are concerned that the off-label, experimental use of the drugs could cause problems. We have no supporting medical testimony that suggests these side effects won’t happen.”
Donald Frederickson, general counsel for Lackawanna County, expressed concern that Mariani issued the order without giving Zaloga or the county an opportunity to be heard. Frederickson said Healey told Parkins he was available Friday evening to discuss the matter with the judge, but neither Parkins nor the judge called him.
In his order, Mariani noted he was granting the petition without giving the county the chance to respond because the lawsuit “clearly shows immediate and irreparable injury” will result before the defendants could be heard.
“The court finds that … the denial to plaintiff of the above-referenced medications presents a clear and present danger to plaintiff’s health,” the order says.
Fritz was diagnosed in January 2016, with gender dysphoria and prescribed Premarin and Estrace, according to an official at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale, where Fritz was incarcerated on theft-related charges. The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he or she identifies.
Fritz was paroled from Houtzdale in November 2016, to a halfway house in Scranton, where she continued to receive the hormones. In January, she was jailed at Lackawanna County Prison on a parole violation after being charged with using a stolen credit card. The prison initially provided her the hormones, but stopped them after three days.
In a reply to the motion to stay, Parkins said Fritz is well aware of the potential side effects. He said it is “disingenuous, bordering on dishonest” for Zaloga to cite concern for side effects, noting the prison initially provided Fritz the hormones before abruptly halting them.
“Where was defendants concern then?” Parkins asked in the motion. “It is merely an excuse, now used to attempt to circumvent this court’s lawful and factually supported temporary restraining order.”
Frederickson questioned why there was such an urgency in restoring treatment since Fritz was off the drugs for six months.
“It hasn’t been irreparable since January,” Frederickson said. “I can’t see how it was irreparable at this point or what the urgency was.”
Frederickson said he also is concerned that Mariani’s order sets a precedent that could cause serious issues for management of the jail.
“Do prisoners now have an end around the policies at the prisons where they can run to court and get … an order any time they don’t agree with a policy?” he asked.
Lackawanna County has a policy that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex inmates from sexual abuse and harassment but it does not address the evaluation and treatment of inmates with gender dysphoria. That decision is left up to the jail’s medical provider, Correctional Care Inc.
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