Transgender Woman Sues, Says Ranger Used Taser on Her Because She Was Once a Man

"I consider myself to be a victim of a crime," said Brooke Fanteli.

ByABC News
November 15, 2012, 4:20 PM

Nov. 15, 2012— -- A Ramona, Calif. transgender woman has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that a Bureau of Land Management ranger used a Taser on her because she used to be a man.

"I consider myself to be a victim of a crime," Brooke Fantelli told

Fantelli had driven out to the desert in Imperial County, Calif. for a photo shoot with two models and a photographer in her Datsun racing pickup truck on October 22, 2011.

During the shoot, Fantelli said a Bureau of Land Management ranger pulled up and asked what was going on. He asked everyone for their identification and for Fantelli's registration. The group complied.

Fantelli said the ranger, referred to in the complaint as "Ranger Peter," was polite at first, calling her "Ma'am" and "Miss." But when he returned her license to her, his demeanor changed.

While she had been female for two years prior to the incident, Fantelli said that she had yet not changed the gender marker on her license.

"When he handed me back my ID, he said, 'You used to be a boy.' I said yeah," Fantelli said.

From then on, Fantelli said the ranger started referring to her as "Mister, sir, and then dude."

While the ranger searched her vehicle, Fantelli said she heard him say, "Please step away while I check its truck."

The photo shoot was allowed to continue, but the ranger stayed, Fantelli said. After nearly an hour and a half, the models asked Fantelli to go over to his car and ask him if he would mind leaving.

Fantelli said the ranger then told her he was arresting her for being drunk in public. During the shoot, she had been drinking a beer, she said, but was not drunk. According to the complaint, the ranger did not conduct sobriety tests before arresting Fantelli.

The situation escalated when other law enforcement officials started arriving on the scene, she said. She put her hands up in the air to show she was not resisting, she said.

Officers ordered Fantelli to lie face down in the dirt and put her hands behind her back. When she refused, she was tased.

"He shot me point blank," she said.

The photographer on the shoot captured in the incident on her cell phone. The video shows Fantelli standing with her arms up in the air before being knocked over by the voltage from a Taser dart. While she was on the ground, the ranger used the Taser again, this time shooting her in the genitals.

"He Tasered my crotch, and then ripped [the Taser probe] out," she said.

Fantelli said she was taken to the hospital and given a blood test, where her blood alcohol content was 0.0, according to the complaint.

Then, she was taken to jail, and charged with public intoxication, violently resisting arrest, and making a terrorist threat -- which is a felony offense.

"In the hospital, the ranger looked at me, and I said, 'You and I are not through yet,'" she said. "That's what he wrote up the threat as."

While the district attorney has declined to pursue the criminal charges, Fantelli is suing the United States and the ranger himself.

When the incident occurred, the Bureau of Land Management issued a statement condoning "Tasers as a law enforcement tool when threatening behavior is exhibited that poses a risk to public safety, as well as the safety of BLM staff."

"When deploying Tasers, rangers target the subject's lower center mass, legs or back if possible. It appears the ranger targeted appropriately in this case," the statement said.

BLM spokeswoman Erin Curtis said she could not comment on the pending lawsuit.

"I think it's especially egregious that she was Tasered in the groin area," said Lisa Mottet, director of the Transgender Civil Rights Project.

According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Transgender Civil Rights Project in conjunction with the National Center for Transgender Equality, 29 percent of transgender people reported being harassed or disrespected by law enforcement because they were transgender, said Mottet.

"Police and law enforcement generally are known to be hostile to transgender folks, which is especially frightening when someone has a gun or a Taser or other weapons," she said.

"Transgender people often experience incredibly negative experiences with law enforcement in general," said Mottet, "Sometimes, it escalates into physical or sexual assault, like it did in this case."