By Kendra Sitton
A local transgender woman, Nikki Yach, is being held in jail for the duration of her trial for violence at a demonstration in Pacific Beach in early 2021.
At a bail hearing on Aug. 19 in San Diego Superior Court, the judge asked Deputy District Attorney Mackenzie Harvey to prove why Yach should be held without bail for the entire trial and Yach’s attorney, Jerry Leahy, to demonstrate what bail was within her means to pay but would still provide an incentive to show up to court.
Yach is one of 11 defendants facing charges related to an Antifa counterprotest of a right-wing protest in Pacific Beach in the days following the Capitol Insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. The demonstration erupted into violence between the two groups and a criminal grand jury indicted 11 people associated with antifa in the aftermath.
Yach is charged with conspiracy to riot, multiple felony assaults, some related to her use of pepper spray and a stun gun as well as doing this while released on bail for another case.
In the hearing, Leahy said the incident was more complicated than the picture District Attorney Summer Stephan is painting and Yach was carrying the pepper spray and stun gun for self-defense use due to the threats she faces over her gender identity.
Harvey countered that Yach could not be released due to her history of assault convictions and the fact she had failed to show to some court dates in the past.
When they reconvened in the afternoon, the judge agreed with the DA’s argument to detain Yach without bail until the trial ends.
Yach was arrested on Dec. 30, 2021 from her apartment in Tijuana.
“She was stolen from my arms,” said GG Hubbard, Yach’s husband. The pair were cuddling in bed when police entered their home.
Lieutenant Amber Briggs, media relations director for the Sheriff’s Department, said “Ensuring safe housing for LGBTQ+ individuals begins during the booking process….all housing options are provided to individuals who identify as LGBTQ+. If the individual informs staff of a preference to [be] housed at a particular facility, the individual’s preference is taken into consideration in the classification and housing process. Taking into consideration the individual’s housing preference, if any, the individual is placed in a housing area with other individuals consistent with their gender identity.”
In a signed declaration to an attorney and according to her husband, Yach requested to be placed in Los Colinas with other women when she was booked. She was held in San Diego Central Jail, a men’s jail, for several months before being transferred to Vista Detention Facility which has an LGBT+ unit meant to protect vulnerable inmates from violence and sexual assault. However, it is not wheelchair accessible – forcing disabled LGBT+ inmates like Yach to choose between safety from violence and their medical needs.
Transgender women are at high risk of violence, especially sexual violence, while jailed. According to CNN, 59% of transgender prisoners in California reported being sexually assaulted compared to 4.4% of the general incarcerated population.
Kristina Frost, a transgender woman, sued the Sheriff’s Department after she was badly beaten and injured while placed in a cell with three men. In July, the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board found her complaints to be credible and the board’s investigators said it was the result of systemic failure on the part of the Sheriff’s Department.
In a signed statement, Yach said staff regularly misgender her and she is called slurs by inmates. Despite being on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), she has not been housed in women’s jails (Vista is coed). She claims her access to HRT was denied the first few months she was jailed.
Yach has multiple sclerosis and experiences occasional flares in the condition. She alleges medical neglect during her detention.
In a declaration in support of a class action lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department to improve jail conditions including its medical practices, Yach said she was willing to testify if called on as a witness about her experiences in the jail. According to the declaration, Yach entered the jail with a wheelchair but gave it up in order to be transferred to Vista to get away from a cellmate who groped her. During a flare in her condition, she asked for the wheelchair to be returned but she was instead transferred back to Central. Eventually, she was placed back in the cell block she had fled previously to find dried blood in it that other inmates said was from an inmate who had been attacked and was on life support.
“It seems like I must choose one aspect of my safety over the other, if the jail even lets me choose. Do I want my wheelchair? Or do I want to be housed in a unit where I have not been assaulted and am with other trans individuals?” Yach stated in her declaration.
The lawsuit follows a state audit that found San Diego County jails to be unsafe. The filthy conditions and mismanagement were one of the concerns in the report.
Hubbard, Yach’s partner, is concerned for her health and safety while in jail. According to him, Yach has a faulty defibrillator in her heart that needs to be replaced or she risks dying of a heart attack. Despite this, the jail has not scheduled heart surgery for Yach.
While this is the most severe instance of medical neglect, Hubbard said the neglect has been “constant.” For the first few months in jail, Yach said she was denied access to her hormone medications. Since then, receiving the correct amount of medication at the correct time has been inconsistent, according to Hubbard. According to the lawsuit and an interview with Hubbard, Yach’s access to mental healthcare has been limited unless she says she is suicidal, especially if Yach wishes to speak to a clinician without a Sheriff’s deputy present.
“Nikki is the love of my life. She’s saved my life on many occasions; she’s the most genuine, caring person I know,” Hubbard said. “So I’m very lucky to have her in my life. But I don’t know how long that’s going to be since she’s in the custody of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department. And she’s dealing with all these medical issues that are going unattended. So I feel like our time is ticking.”