PORTLAND — A former Echo man serving time for killing his girlfriend in 2014 is suing the state of Oregon for failing to provide protection in prison after he transitioned to female.
Zera Lola Zombie, 37, is a transgender woman serving time for manslaughter for the bludgeoning death of Samantha Brown. Zombie was Daniel Lee Smith at the time of the killing. She changed her name in July 2020 along with changing her gender to female, according to state court records. She filed the lawsuit Sept. 10, 2021, in the U.S. District Court of Oregon.
Zombie in the 18-page complaint alleged she “suffered ongoing harassment and verbal, mental, and psychological abuse by both prisoners and (Oregon Department of Corrections) staff as a result of her sex, gender and gender identity” while she was in custody at Oregon State Correctional Institution and then Oregon State Penitentiary. The lawsuit also alleges other inmates physically and sexually assaulted her and staff did not protect her from the attacks.
The lawsuit names the state as the lead defendant, plus numerous correctional officers and other staff and Josh Highberger, superintendent of Oregon State Correctional Institution, and Brandon Kelly, superintendent of Oregon State Penitentiary.
The harassment and assaults began in November 2019, according to the pleading, when a male officer at Oregon State Correctional Institution strip-searched Zombie in front of a male inmate. The abuse escalated from there, and on Christmas Day 2019 staff denied she could have toilet paper for bathroom hygiene. The lawsuit claims she uses her socks to clean herself and had to dispose of them in a biohazard bag.
Sometime after that the Department of Corrections transferred Zombie to the state pen. There, she claims, another inmate, Allen Howard, physically assaulted her on Oct. 9, 2020, and staff ignored the assault.
Zombie also claims OSP staff housed her from March 2020 until June 2021 with Mikal Shabazz. Court records show he is serving at least 40 years for convictions in 1997 in Multnomah County for a slew of crimes, including robbery, assault, sodomy and first-degree rape. Zombie claims Shabazz physically and sexually assaulted her, sometimes on a daily basis. She reported the assaults to prison staff at least twice, according to the lawsuit, and they did nothing to protect her.
Other inmates also assaulted and harassed Zombie, the pleading states, and she now suffers “psychological trauma, anxiety and mental anguish as a result of the physical, mental and sexual abuse she has experienced” while in the custody of the Oregon Department of Corrections.
Zombie did not specify how much she is suing the state for. Rather, she wants a jury trial and compensation for physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, economic losses and an award for punitive damages, plus court costs and attorney fees and “other and further relief as the court may deem just and equitable.”
Oregon Department of Corrections online inmate information shows she is serving her sentence at Snake River Correctional Institution, Ontario. But in the lawsuit she claimed she was an at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, the only prison in Oregon that houses female inmates.
Attorneys John Burgess and Katharine Edwards with the Portland firm Law Offices of Daniel Snyder represent Zombie and filed the lawsuit on her behalf. Judge Ann L. Aiken is presiding over the case and set Tuesday, Jan. 11, as the day to complete discovery and Feb. 10 for other filings, including a Joint Alternate Dispute Resolution Report.
The state as of Jan. 4 has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.