News Briefing

Transgender-related prison lawsuit terminated

A federal lawsuit filed by four women who shared a cell in a city prison with a transgender woman was officially terminated last month.

A “stipulation of dismissal” was filed with U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno Dec. 29, thus ending the litigation.

In November 2011, Jabrina T. Barnett, Maria Cachola, Katiria Chamorro and Yazmin Gonzales filed suit claiming their privacy rights were violated when they were required to share a cell with a pre-operative transgender woman at Riverside Correctional Facility.

They claimed the transgender inmate, Jovanie Saldana, subjected them to unwanted advances and sexual harassment.

They also contended that Saldana would leer at them and make inappropriate comments about their anatomy.

Their attorney, Brian F. Humble, said the city paid $32,000 to settle the case.

Prison Health Services, a privately run company that provided medical care to city inmates, also paid an undisclosed amount of money to settle the case, Humble said.

“The city settled for $8,000 per plaintiff,” Humble said in an email. “I can state that the PHS amount was substantially lower based on apportionment of liability.”

There was no acknowledgement of wrongdoing by any party to the litigation.

Shawn Hawes, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Prison System, declined to comment.

Stephen E. Siegrist, an attorney for Prison Health Services, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Historical Commission issues opinion on church

After meeting in a closed session Jan. 10, the city’s Historical Commission stated publicly that developer John Wei has a valid permit to demolish the old Church of the Assumption.

The 13-member commission issued its opinion at the request of the city’s License and Inspection Review Board, which has blocked the demolition temporarily.

The church, built in 1849 by Charles Patrick Keely, is located at 1123-33 Spring Garden St., in the Callowhill section of the city.

Local HIV/AIDS agency Siloam sold the church and two adjacent buildings to Wei last July.

The Callowhill Neighborhood Association wants the church preserved as a tourist attraction, noting its ties to two local saints, Katharine Drexel and John Neumann.

But attorneys for Wei say the building is in danger of collapse and should be demolished.

CNA contends Wei doesn’t have a valid demolition permit, partly because the case remains pending in Commonwealth Court.

But commission members said appropriate approvals are in place for Wei to move forward with the demolition.

Neighborhood activist Andrew R. Palewski disagreed with the commission’s opinion.

“The commission is trying to transfer a hardship approval from one property owner to another,” Palewski said. “There’s no case law to support such a transfer.”

Although Common Pleas Judge Idee C. Fox approved the demolition last year, Palewski noted that Fox never mentioned the sale of the building in her ruling.

“There was no mention of the sale of the property in the judge’s opinion,” Palewski added. “It was as if the sale never occurred. There is also no direct argument for the ruling extending to a new owner in the judge’s opinion.”

At presstime, the L&I Review Board hadn’t announced when it will revisit the matter. In the interim, the board’s stay of demolition for the church remains in place.

— Tim Cwiek

Sister of victim hopes to fight violence

While attempting to protect his nephew from robbers last January, openly gay Philadelphia resident Alexander Martinez was murdered, and now his family is speaking out against violence.

Martinez’s sister, Rosalind Pichardo, the head of Operation Save Our City, will hold a three-day campout Jan. 25-27 at 2034 E. Allegheny Ave. to demonstrate against gun violence in Philadelphia.

Participants are asked to bring tents and blankets, and noncampers are welcomed for support. Donations of water, hot chocolate and other items are also needed.

For more information, email Pichardo at [email protected] or call 856-745-6045.

Stimulus to give back

Stimulus Philadelphia will present its second annual Winter Wonderland Ball 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Jan. 27 at Voyeur, 1221 St. James St., to raise money for LGBT grantmaking agency Sapphire Fund.

The party will feature a red-carpet entry, live performances and three DJs.

Semi-formal attire is required. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

For more information, visit

— Angela Thomas

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