Trans woman killed in Oakland
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Oakland police are investigating the shooting death of a transsexual woman who was killed in her car in the city's downtown area Sunday morning, April 29.
A woman who was with the victim, Brandy Martell, 37, said that she was killed shortly after a man Martell had been talking to learned of her gender identity.
Oakland Police Department spokeswoman Lea Rubio said that at 5:16 a.m. Sunday, police responded to the 400 block of 13th Street, near Franklin Street. Officers located Milton Massey Jr., which police say is Martell's legal name, inside a vehicle, she said. Martell, which someone who knew her said was her legal name, was pronounced dead at the scene. Investigators are looking into the motive for the shooting, said Rubio.
Bryana Coleman, 37, who's transgender and lives in Hayward, said that she was in the backseat of Martell's Lexus Sunday morning. Two other people besides her and Martell, who also lived in Hayward, were in the car, she said.
She said that they had been "hanging out" for several hours before two men "dressed like they were coming from a nightclub" approached them at about 4:30 or 5 a.m., and one of them came up to her window and asked her how she was doing.
The man saw "how pretty [Martell] was" and said, "I like your friend," said Coleman.
Martell rolled down her window a little and had a conversation with the man for about five to 10 minutes. The second man went to the front passenger side and spoke with the woman in that seat, said Coleman.
She said that she "couldn't hear verbatim every word" that Martell and the front passenger said, but "There was no verbal altercation." Coleman said that she didn't hear any anti-gay or anti-trans comments.
Coleman said that the front passenger looked at Martell and said, "They don't know what time it is" and also "disclosed [to the men] we're transgender."
One of the men said, "Ok," and they walked off, said Coleman. She said that's the last thing she remembers before she fell asleep.
She said that she woke up to "a quick succession" of gunshots, and the woman who had been in the front passenger seat was running and screaming, "Call the police."
Coleman said that according to the front seat passenger, who "saw the whole thing," the man at Martell's side of the car was the gunman. Coleman said that she didn't see who was doing the shooting. By the time she woke up, it appeared that the gunman "was running and shooting," she said.
Coleman said that she'd been "drinking all night," and "I was still halfway out of it" when she woke up. Martell was driving off as the shots were fired, she said. Martell "never said anything," she said, but she was holding her side. Martell eventually stopped the car and Coleman put it in park, she said.
A bystander administered CPR to Martell and bandaged her in an attempt to stop the bleeding, said Coleman.
The police "got there quick," she said. She estimated that she was at the scene for up to 10 minutes after the shooting.
Martell was still gasping for air when the police took Coleman away, before the ambulance came, said Coleman.
She said that she was kept in a room for 10 hours and "interrogated." [Police did not respond to an emailed request to respond to that Wednesday morning, May 2.]
Rubio, the police spokeswoman, said Tuesday, May 1, that she didn't know whether there were any signs Martell's death was a hate crime. She said it appeared that only one of the gunshots had hit Martell.
She also said she'd been told that Massey was Martell's legal name "and his family is very sensitive about this."
Police are "really trying to be sensitive to the family and to everybody, the whole community. ... I just think it's terrible," said Rubio.
She said the people she needed to check with about the case weren't available. Many Oakland police were busy Tuesday with Occupy May Day protests. Another police department staffer said Monday, April 30 that the inspector apparently handling the killing wasn't available, and the inspector didn't respond to an emailed interview request.
The shooting occurred near an area known for prostitution, but Coleman said the spot where Martell died is "not a sex working place," and "We're not sex workers. ... We were not doing any sex work."
The spot they were in "has always been a safe haven for us," said Coleman, who said Martell identified as transsexual.
"We don't think we're going to be harmed in holding a conversation," said Coleman, and she thought "the guys might have been pursuing us" or "trying to pick us up." Many other people were also in the area, she said.
The front passenger eventually indicated to Coleman that the two men had returned after she fell asleep and demanded money, she said. However, she said, "All our purses were still on the front seat." The Bay Area Reporter has not been able to reach the other passengers.
Coleman said that Martell "had a beautiful personality." Her friend "would give you the shirt off her back," she said. "She liked to dance and she loved life." Martell was also a good cook and a talented mimic, she said.
"She used to imitate me all the time," said Coleman. "We used to be together so much. ... She said I'm so dramatic about everything."
Coleman, who said she has "really long" hair, said that Martell used to call her "Baldy." She said that Martell's nickname was "Turkey," a moniker given to her by her parents when she was a child.
Tiffany Woods, the TransVision coordinator at the Fremont-based Tri-City Health Center, said that Martell worked for her for four years. Martell technically wasn't staff, but she was a volunteer peer educator and was compensated, she said. She was involved in the Transgender Day of Remembrance, among other activities. The last time Woods saw Martell was at the Day of Remembrance in November.
Woods, who said that Martell had legally changed her name, said that Martell was "amazing" and "funny."
"I'd hate for her to die in vain," said Coleman. "Brandy is a person. She's a human being. ... She has a family. She loves her family."
Coleman described the men who'd approached Martell's car as Ethiopians, based on their hair texture, their medium complexions, and the accent of one of the men.
The man who spoke to Martell was around 5 feet 10 inches and had short, curly black hair and a thin build, according to Coleman. She didn't remember what he was wearing but said that he had dark slacks.
The other man was about 5 feet 8 inches and had an accent, curly hair, and a medium build, said Coleman. They both appeared to be in their early 30s, she said.
There will be a public funeral and homecoming services for Martell Wednesday, May 9 at 11 a.m. at C.P. Bannon Mortuary, 6800 International Boulevard in Oakland.
Witnesses are asked to contact the Oakland Police Department. The non-emergency number is (510) 777-3333. The website is http://www.oaklandpolice.com.