Eric Vogel was a seriously mentally ill young man. Shortly following an arrest in 2001, Maricopa County jail officers recognized his psychotic state, and he was ordered to be transferred to the psych unit. However, as a precondition to being taken to the psych unit, detention officers required that he “dress out” into the jail-issued pink underwear. Eric, in the midst of an active psychosis, believed that he was being raped during this process. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a published opinion, held that the trial court had erred in excluding evidence regarding the pink underwear. The federal appellate court held:
That he had been dressed in pink was not a delusion. But what was essential to the plaintiff’s case was Wagner’s testimony that the shock and humiliation of the “dress-out” in pink was preying on his mind. The court’s suppression of any reference to pink underwear was an abuse of discretion. . . .
When a color of such symbolic significance is selected for jail underwear, it is difficult to believe that the choice of color was random. The County offers no penalogical reason, indeed no explanation whatsoever for its jail’s odd choice. Given the cultural context, it is a fair inference that the color is chosen to symbolize a loss of masculine identity and power, to stigmatize the male prisoners as feminine.
Wagner v. County of Maricopa, — F.3d –, 2012 WL 718490, slip op. at 4 (9th Cir. 2012).
Evan Haglund and Joel Robbins drafted the briefs, and John Curtin argued the matter before the Court in San Francisco.