The grainy black-and-white surveillance video shows someone with long hair, a knee-length dress and a cardigan walk up to the passenger side of an SUV in central Fresno and lean down to talk. Less than a minute later, the driver reaches over and stabs the person in the neck before driving off.
Depending on who you talk to, the victim was “Casey” or “Kenton Craig” Haggard. Transgender advocates say Haggard, 66, recently had started transitioning from male to female. Haggard had not come out as such to family and friends.
Haggard’s gender identity became a source of conflict between police and the trans community as the story made its way around the world. Fresno police drew criticism for referring to Haggard as a man, citing a driver’s license and the coroner’s report.
Haggard’s July 23 death illuminates issues involving violent crimes against transgender people. Advocates say those in the early stages of transitioning are likely to keep their identities secret for fear of rejection. When they are victimized, police might not acknowledge their true identities, which makes it hard to track violence against transgender people.
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The video from a nearby tattoo shop shows Haggard stumbling and holding the bleeding wound near Blackstone and Cornell avenues. Haggard waves to passing cars for help — none stop — before leaving view. Haggard eventually collapsed on the sidewalk, slumped against a pole.
Police arrived around 2:20 a.m. Haggard died at Community Regional Medical Center just before 3 a.m.
Trans people are at high risk of suicide and many suffer rejection by family and friends, discrimination, victimization, violence or death, says the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law that specializes in sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy.
Chase Strangio, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT project, said many transgender people become isolated from their communities, making it hard to piece together a narrative of what happened when they are killed.
We can’t know for sure how Casey would want to be referred to. The best we can do is not presume automatically that she would have wanted to be referred to by her birth name.
Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT project
Though Haggard’s story is known, Strangio said, there are likely others whose deaths were reported as the murder of a man or a man dressed in women’s clothing.
“There’s an incredible amount of bias from law enforcement and the media telling the story about the person who has been killed,” he said. “Not only does it delay the process of understanding what happened to the person, but it also most likely erases some stories altogether.”
LGBT advocates typically identify people based on their preferred gender pronoun. But Haggard’s case is complex. What happens when someone is killed before their preference is clear?
Advocates have called Haggard a woman. Strangio said many trans people present themselves in accordance with their sex at birth so they won’t be alienated from family and friends.
“We can’t know for sure how Casey would want to be referred to,” he said. “The best we can do is not presume automatically that she would have wanted to be referred to by her birth name.”
Overly focused on gender
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said police are doing all they can to find the killer, regardless of Haggard’s gender identity. He said investigators have strong leads and have received several tips from Crime Stoppers.
Police describe the suspect as a Hispanic man in his mid- to late 30s. He is around 5 feet 9 inches tall and 160 pounds with tattoos on both arms and short, dark hair. The man drove a silver Saturn SUV with a moon roof and some unidentified markings on the front passenger’s door.
Dyer said there is a possibility Haggard was transgender, based on the outfit. He said he is trying to be sensitive to the transgender population and the family because Haggard is no longer alive to clear that up. Dyer said family and roommates gave no indication of Haggard being transgender.
Maybe we’ve lost sight of the victim and the need to bring to justice the person who killed Kenton Haggard, and we’ve become overly focused on the gender.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer
“The main thing is I want us to stand shoulder to shoulder with the transgender population in pursuing justice for this victim’s family,” he said. “That should be our ultimate goal.”
Using Caitlyn Jenner as an example, Dyer said he would imagine some people continue to refer to her as male, just out of habit.
Talking again about Haggard, Dyer said, “However we have referred to the victim, it’s not out of malice. It’s out of maybe an inability to determine, at least at this point.”
The FBI is working with Fresno police to determine whether Haggard’s slaying was a hate crime. Fresno police records show there have been no recorded killings of transgender people at least since 2005. But last year was the first time the FBI released statistics for reported hate crimes based on gender identity.
“I think what’s happened is maybe we’ve lost sight of the victim and the need to bring to justice the person who killed Kenton Haggard and we’ve become overly focused on the gender,” Dyer said. “Number one, we have to find the person responsible for the murder, which will help us determine what the motive was to include a potential hate crime.”
Calling all TG girls
Advocates say Haggard is the 11th transgender woman killed in the U.S. this year. At a vigil the night of July 30 in the Tower District, no one questioned whether Haggard was transgender. Members of the local group Trans-E-Motion said Haggard signed in to group meetings as Casey.
Zoyer Zyndel recognized Haggard from a photo released last week. Zyndel said he once gave Haggard a ride to a Trans-E-Motion meeting. He said Haggard started attending meetings a couple months ago.
Transgender advocates said Haggard recently created a female Facebook page under the name K.c. Haggard. In a post four months ago on a different Facebook page under the first name Kenton, Haggard reviewed Rep’s Sports Bar on North Blackstone Avenue.
“Hey calling TG girls amber says we can hangout there. C U there K.c. Haggard,” the message reads. Advocates say TG is shorthand for transgender.
Asked whether police were aware of that Facebook post, Dyer said they are. “But it is important that our investigators not allow any of that to get them sidetracked on finding the killer,” he said.
Strangio said it’s important to know that Haggard was transgender not just because of the potential for a hate crime, but also because it could have been an essential part of Haggard’s identity.
“Whether or not it was a hate crime, the reality is that discrimination against trans people makes it more likely that they will be killed in a violent way,” he said.
Who was Kenton Haggard?
Gerald Haggard, 62, only ever knew his older brother as Kenton Haggard, a man. Gerald said he and his brother were close, especially growing up in rural Ivanhoe where they didn’t have many playmates. Since their parents died, Gerald was Kenton’s closest family.
Kenton graduated from Chapman College in Orange County with a degree in history and English. He worked in many different fields, including operating heavy equipment and working with disabled young adults. Kenton retired four years ago from a job as a security officer and graduated last year from Heald College with a degree in computer training.
He didn’t deserve what happened to him — nobody does. There’s lots of victims in this world. We’ve lost a sweet spirit, regardless of his orientation.
Gerald Haggard, brother to “Casey” or “Kenton” Haggard
Gerald said his brother had a mercurial adulthood. Kenton never married or had children. He had trouble finding a job after graduating from Heald and suffered from financial and physical issues. Gerald said his brother was a recovering drug and alcohol addict, and attended many years of Alcohol Anonymous meetings. But Kenton was a kind soul, who never meant anyone harm, Gerald said.
Kenton’s roommates and landlord started telling Gerald his brother was walking around the neighborhood dressed as a woman a few months ago. But Kenton never brought it up to Gerald, and Gerald never asked.
“I was more than willing to talk about it but that was his decision and his freedom to do what he wanted,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me one way or another.”
Referring to transgender advocates, Gerald said he has no problem with Kenton’s story helping advance a cause. But he doesn’t want his brother as a person to get lost in the rhetoric.
“I don’t care whether he was in a cardigan sweater or whether he was in a three-piece suit,” Gerald said. “The point is he was my brother. He didn’t deserve what happened to him — nobody does. There’s lots of victims in this world. We’ve lost a sweet spirit, regardless of his orientation.”
Solving Haggard’s murder
Reward: Fresno City Council members Clint Olivier, Esmeralda Soria and Oliver Baines collectively donated $3,000 from their council budgets toward the Crime Stoppers reward for any tips leading to an arrest of Haggard’s murderer. The total reward is now $5,000.
To help: Anyone with information is asked to contact Sgt. David Ramsey at 559-621-2456 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To report tips anonymously, call Crime Stoppers at 559-498-7867.