Woman’s arrest in Flagstaff reveals missteps in police interactions with queer community

Despite having an LGBTQ+ liaison and advisory committee, Flagstaff police officers consistently dead-named a woman and misgendered her, even after being corrected and told to stop.

Woman’s arrest in Flagstaff reveals missteps in police interactions with queer community
A photo of Epona Rose, 34, who was arrested and charged with two felony assaults and three misdemeanors. A police report said that she attacked two men unprovoked, but she said that she was sexually assaulted by one of the men and fought back. (Credit: FreeEponaRose.org)

The City of Flagstaff boasts on its main city website a nearly perfect score with the Human Rights Campaign, especially when it comes to interactions with police. Out of a possible score of 12, HRC awarded the city 10 points for having an LGBTQ+ liaison in the police department and reporting hate crime data to the FBI.

But a recent arrest of a woman who transitioned for felony assault after she claimed she attacked in self defense and the subsequent police report issued by the Flagstaff Police Department calls into question if the training done inside Flagstaff’s police department is actually in service of the community. In the report, one officer consistently dead-names and misgenders the woman, and downplayed her allegation of an attack.

In a probable cause affidavit obtained by LOOKOUT through a records request, officers consistently referred to Epona Rose, a 34-year-old woman who started medically transitioning almost two years ago, as “he,” describing her as a “male dressed in feminine clothing” and dead-named Rose multiple times. (”Dead-naming” means calling someone by the name they had before transitioning.)

“I socially transitioned years ago,” Rose said, adding that she’s been on hormone replacement therapy, as well, and has had her ID changed to show their gender as female. But police consistently misidentified and misgendered her, despite being told to stop. Rose provided a copy of her state ID to LOOKOUT which showed her gender listed as female.

One of the officers’ reports said: “Just my referring to [Rose] as ‘him’ was enough to cause an instantaneous and very angry response,” the officer wrote in his report. “He stated ‘Her! My sex is 'her' on my identification! It's female. This is the whole problem, this is the whole problem! That's why they abused me, that's why they fucking attacked me!’”

But most glaring is the absence of Rose’s version of events in the affidavit. Out of the 27-page report, there is only one paragraph dedicated to her side of the story. 

“She began explaining the two men were attempting to fight her due to her being transgender,” the affidavit read. “Both males stood up from the table and were taking aggressive stances so she reached into her bag and pulled out a can of bear mace. She then sprayed the two men with the bear mace and one male continued to ‘talk shit’ so she placed him in a choke hold.”

Another officer in his report downplayed the alleged assault, saying the men were “being mean” to Rose.

Protesters gather outside the Coconino County Courthouse in Flagstaff to demand the release of Epona Rose. Rose was arrested and charged with two felony assaults and three misdemeanors, but she says that she was attacked for being trans and acted in self-defense. (Credit: FreeEponaRose.org)

County prosecutors rely on probable cause affidavits written by police to determine if an arrest was warranted. With only one side of the story told in the affidavit, it’s unclear if the county attorney knew that Rose claimed that the men initially sexually assaulted her. 

The affidavit quoted the alleged victims of the attack, who said that Rose attempted to have a conversation with a group of five men near Heritage Square in downtown Flagstaff. One of the men identified as a victim said that Rose, “kept pressing her like transexualness, rights, this and that," and that she was “trying to force a conversation that nobody wanted to have.”

The man said he told Rose to leave after she head butted one of the men “out of nowhere,” but  allegedly came back after 20 minutes and maced one of the other men, and put a knife against his throat. A witness doesn’t describe what lead up to the attack, but did tell officers that an altercation happened where Rose allegedly screamed, “Here is this for aggressiveness or violence” after macing someone. 

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Rose, who had never seen a copy of the affidavit before LOOKOUT contacted her, said the men’s story was “great fan fiction.”

She said their account is vastly different from Rose’s version. She said that while killing time for her friend to show up in Heritage Square, five men were at a table drinking. She said she asked to join the group and they invited her in, and Rose said she did talk about about having transitioned years ago.

“We were all talking for a while, laughing even,” she said, contradicting one of the men’s stories that Rose was never invited to join the group. “Then they kept asking me questions about what’s in my pants, and I kept pushing back and saying it was none of their business.”

Rose allegedly asked multiple times to change the conversation, which is when one of the men put his hand up her leg and touched her genitals. Rose said she pushed the man’s hands away and she attempted to fight the men off, and ended up macing the men. 

The police report said she was mirandized, but Rose said that never happened, and despite asking for a lawyer multiple times, they were not granted one. The report said she did ask for a lawyer at least twice before being questioned, but spoke willingly after they informed her of her rights.

The City of Flagstaff did not provide comment by the time of publishing Thursday a.m., but we will update this story in the event they respond. 

Flagstaff’s police department has a “Citizen Liaison Committee” that, according to the police’s website, “proactively build[s] trust among our constituencies and between the constituencies and the Flagstaff Police Department.” There is a phone number listed that goes to a voicemail that isn’t always monitored, according to the FPD website.

Flagstaff also has an LGBTQ+ liaison, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. LOOKOUT contacted FPD Chief of Police Dan Musselman twice by email to inquire on trainings offered by the liaison, or how Rose’s arrest and the officer’s report comports with the training rank-and-file officers receive. We received no response back.

This story has been updated to confirm a statement made by Rose.

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