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'They stripped me of everything': Transgender woman jailed with men, sues sheriff's office

Karla Bello is suing the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office after Bello says deputies housed her with male inmates.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — It was the first time Karla Bello had been arrested in her life. She didn't know what to expect.

"I had lost the fight on the eleventh day. I had decided, I’m going to die in here. It was too much for me," said Bello, who spent eleven days in the Pinellas County Jail after failing to appear to a traffic court hearing.

Bello's story starts 35 years ago when she was three with her earliest memories of feeling like she was different. By the time she was a teenager, she knew she was meant to be a woman.

"I feel like a girl but I don’t look like one."

After decades of suppressing her true self and overcoming strained family relationships, Bello started to transition from male to female in her early thirties. Now, at 38, she says she's never been happier, saying, "This feels natural and this feels normal to me."

However, in 2019, Bello says a traumatic experience at the Pinellas County Jail set her back.

Arrest records show Bello was picked up by a Gulfport police officer in November 2019 at her home. The report reads:

...Carlos Raul Bello Nogueda, an individual with a Pinellas County misdemeanor traffic warrant in NCIC/FCIC for a failure to appear on the charge of DWLSR...

The name above is Bello's legal name but one she hasn't used in years. Bello said the arresting officer was respectful but things took a turn once she arrived at the jail.

She says she was housed with men because of her genitalia. Bello says she was deprived of hormonal medication and suffered physical and psychological consequences.

"Where am I supposed to change? I’m supposed to be on hormones. It started to affect me in so many different ways, it’s so layered," Bello explained to 10 Tampa Bay.

Bello and her attorney filed a lawsuit last week alleging that several deputies with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office violated her constitutional rights by depriving her of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminating against her based on her gender identity.

They believe Bello was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment by cutting her off from her medically necessary hormone replacement therapy and prohibiting her from both wearing her female clothing and undergarments and using grooming supplies. 

Bello explained that make-up and other cosmetics are not superficial to her but rather imperative to her well-being. She even resorted to using colored pencils on her skin while in jail.

 "I just used them as makeup, color in my eyes or lips or cheeks. It made me feel better," she said.

"Without the hormones, my skin started to lose its softness," Bello added.

After eleven days in jail, Bello said transgender advocates raised money to bail her out. Now she and her attorney are hoping for reform.

"If things like this happen in Pinellas County which prides itself on being this very safe place for LGBT people, you can only imagine what’s going on in some of the more rural counties," said Rook Ringer, Bello's attorney.

Ringer wants to see uniform policies across the state of Florida and Karla Bello believes she survived the ordeal to be a voice for others.

"It’s about dignity. It’s about dignity. Serving your time with dignity," said Bello.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office e-mailed the following to 10 Tampa Bay:

Sheriff Gualtieri will not be providing a statement on this case due to impending litigation.

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