Sheriff Negligent in 'Boys Don't Cry' Death

ByKevin O'Hanlon

L I N C O L N, Neb., April 20, 2001 -- A former sheriff was negligent for notprotecting a cross-dressing woman who was murdered in the case thatinspired the movie Boys Don't Cry, the Nebraska Supreme Courtruled today.

In a scathing, 20-page opinion, Chief Justice John Hendryordered a lower court to award the victim's mother $80,000 andrefigure damages for emotional distress.

The ruling reversed an earlier decision that said Teena Brandon,who often dressed as a man and went by the alias Brandon Teena, waspartly responsible for her own death.

Sheriff Charles Laux was more concerned with Brandon's sexualitythan he was with keeping her safe after she had reported she wasraped, Hendry said.

Brandon, 21, was posing as a young man and using the aliasBrandon Teena in 1993 when two acquaintances, John Lotter andMarvin Nissen, learned her true gender. She told the sheriff theyhad raped her, and about a week later, they killed her in aHumboldt farmhouse, along with two others who witnessed her death.

‘Demeaning, Accusatory and Intimidating Treatment’

Brandon's mother, Joann Brandon, sued the sheriff for more than$350,000, saying he should have offered her daughter protectivecustody. The district judge awarded $17,360.

Joann Brandon's lawyer, Herb Friedman, hailed the ruling.

"It's clear that this young woman was tormented not only by thepeople that killed her, but tormented by a local sheriff who simplydid not understand anything about her," Friedman said. "Hebrutalized her. That should not be condoned in a civilizedsociety."

Attorney Richard Boucher, who represented Laux and RichardsonCounty in the case, declined immediate comment.

In the ruling, Hendry said Laux showed indifference to the rapeallegation by referring to Teena Brandon as "it" and notimmediately arresting the two suspects, who had threatened to killher if she reported the rape.

Hendry said Laux's tone on the tape-recorded interview was"demeaning, accusatory and intimidating."

Story Spawns Movie, Documentary

The 1999 movie Boys Don't Cry earned Hilary Swank an AcademyAward for best actress for her portrayal of Teena Brandon. Theslaying also was the subject of a 1998 documentary, The BrandonTeena Story.

Thirty-one civil rights groups, including the New York-basedLambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed briefs in thesupreme court case.

Lotter received three death sentences for the killings and isawaiting execution in the state's electric chair. Nissen, in a dealwith prosecutors, testified against Lotter and was sentenced tolife in prison.

Neither was ever charged with rape.

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