Fresno police drew criticism Friday for referring to a person stabbed to death as a man, as local activists and one Fresno City Council member said the victim was a transgender woman.
The controversy stemmed from the Fresno Police Department on Thursday calling the victim, 66-year-old Kenton Haggard, a man. Haggard was walking near the intersection of Blackstone and East Cornell avenues around 2 a.m. when the attack occurred.
Surveillance video from a nearby tattoo shop shows an SUV pull up next to the victim, who approached the passenger side window. Haggard was stabbed multiple times and later pronounced dead at Community Regional Medical Center.
The video shows Haggard wearing a dress with a cardigan over it and carrying a bag.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Fresno Bee
Fresno police Lt. Joe Gomez said the department refers to crime victims by their physiological sex and will only note a person’s transgender status if that information will help the investigation.
Gomez said investigators have received no information indicating that Haggard was transgender.
Gomez added that police also have no reason to believe that Haggard was killed because of appearance or possible transgender status.
“There’s no evidence to indicate this was a hate crime,” Gomez said. “If he was transgender, just the fact he was murdered wouldn’t make this a hate crime, either. If a white guy shoots a black guy, that isn’t necessarily a hate crime.”
Gomez said the suspects could have known Haggard previously or had some sort of dispute. “At this point in the investigation, it is just too early to know any of that stuff,” he said.
Tony Botti, spokesman for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, said the coroner identified the victim as a man named Kenton Haggard.
However, Fresno City Council Member Clint Olivier referred to Haggard as KC, a transgender woman.
“KC Haggard is a transgender woman who was walking on Blackstone when she was approached by a tan-colored SUV,” Olivier said. “This person called her over to his car.”
Olivier went on to ask the public for help in identifying those who killed Haggard, whose death occurred in Olivier’s district.
“The brutal and disturbing images of KC Haggard being stabbed and left to die are heartbreaking,” Olivier said. “I know Fresno PD is doing everything they can to locate and arrest the animals who did this. It’s my hope that anyone who has any information will call detectives.”
Olivier said he wants to keep this killing in the headlines and the public eye.
“This is an outrage because in our community there’s a monster on the loose,” Olivier said. “These animals that were in the SUV made the decision that they were going to take an innocent person’s life. I’m pleading with people that if you know who did this, these people need to be taken.”
Activists speak out
Local LGBTQ activists said law enforcement need to be more cautious in identifying transgender people in cases like Haggard’s.
Rachel Bowman, a transgender woman who helps organize the annual Fresno Pride Parade, said if a person was dressed in female attire, then that person should be called transgender or a woman, unless it’s Halloween. She said law enforcement should make the decision on the side of the person being transgender.
“This still points out that there’s a lot of discrimination, and there’s still a lot of work to do,” Bowman said. “As activists, we’re all trying to improve transgender rights and respect.”
Karen Adell Scot is a transgender woman from North Fork and the director of TransCare, a transgender education and activism website. As a former sheriff’s deputy and military veteran, Scot said the Fresno Police Department is following an old style of policing regarding transgender people.
“They need to label transgender people properly so that they can have their investigation reflect the proper gender of the transgender person, and so that they can have their investigation aided by the transgender community,” Scot said.
Scot agreed with Bowman regarding identification of transgender people.. She said a commemoration on Facebook and Twitter has started using the hashtag #TransRememberanceRed, where transgender people and their allies are encouraged to wear red for a few days and post a picture with the hashtag after a murder occurs.
Chris Jarvis, president of Gay Central Valley, said a vigil will be held for Haggard at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Fresno LGBT Community Center in the Tower District.