Was the brutal killing of a trans woman in Miami Beach a hate crime? What Florida law says

The heinous beating death of a trans woman in Miami Beach has led leaders in the LGBTQ+ community to call for investigating the act as a hate crime, but police said the attack doesn’t appear to be one.

On Tuesday morning, Andrea Doria Dos Passos, 37, was sleeping by the entrance of the Miami City Ballet’s building in Miami Beach, at 22nd Street and Liberty Avenue, when Gregory Fitzgerald Gibert, 53, began pummeling her head and face with a pipe, police said. Officers also found two wooden sticks lodged into her nostrils.

“One stick exited over the right eye and the other appeared lodged into the nose cavity,” police said in the arrest report of Gibert, who has been charged in her death. “A puncture wound was also located in the victim’s chest.”

A man who cops say used a pipe to beat a trans woman to death as she slept outside the Miami City Ballet in Miami Beach was arrested on Tuesday, April 24, 2024.
A man who cops say used a pipe to beat a trans woman to death as she slept outside the Miami City Ballet in Miami Beach was arrested on Tuesday, April 24, 2024.

Was the brutal murder a hate crime?

A hate crime is an act committed or attempted by one person or group against another — or that person’s property — that constitutes “an expression of hatred toward the victim based on his or her personal characteristics, according to the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

Such traits include race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, homeless status, advanced age or mental/physical disability.

Dos Passos’ killing, however, is not being investigated as a hate crime, according to Miami Beach police.

READ MORE: Man accused of beating trans woman to death as she slept near Miami City Ballet is arrested

“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that Andrea was targeted because of her sexuality or gender,” Miami Beach Police Chief Wayne Jones said in a statement Wednesday.

What prompted Gibert to allegedly kill Dos Passos will be key in determining whether the attack was hate-related. Ultimately, it is up to law enforcement to determine whether a particular incident constitutes a hate crime. The motive behind the killing of Dos Passos was not immediately known.

What are Florida’s hate crime laws?

In Florida, a hate crime “enhancement” is added when authorities prove the defendant committed the underlying crime motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation or other prejudices, according to Miami attorney Michael Grieco, a former state prosecutor and former Miami Beach commissioner. These enhancements can increase the degree of felony or misdemeanor, resulting in harsher penalties.

In Dos Passos’ killing, the suspect is already charged with first-degree murder, and is facing life in prison.

“Once a person is facing life in prison, the hate crime statute is really superfluous,” Grieco said. “But whether or not it was motivated by prejudice, it is still relevant for the state’s analysis as to whether or not they want to seek the death penalty.”

READ MORE: Man arrested for murder of transgender woman on Miami Beach, has charge upped, denied bond

Flamingo Democrats, the Miami-Dade chapter of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, called for the state attorney’s office to add a hate crime enhancement to Gibert’s second-degree murder charge.

“The safety of all residents of Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County should be of the utmost importance, especially those in marginalized communities such as our transgender community,” the organization said in a statement.

Police have said Dos Passos was homeless and had “changed her name and sex” in October.

Miami-Dade’s State Attorney’s Office’s Hate Crimes unit is reviewing the case, the agency said in a statement Wednesday.

READ MORE: Miami Beach police investigating after woman beaten to death near Miami City Ballet: sources

“The SAO Hate Crimes unit reviews every criminal offense that has the potential of being motivated by hate, to see if Florida’s hate crime enhancement is applicable to the specific situation,” the agency said.

Joe Saunders, senior political director with Equality Florida, told the Miami Herald that the “level of overkill” that Dos Passos experienced “is often one of the hallmarks of hate-motivated violence.”

“So whenever a transgender person is murdered, especially when it is with such brutality, the question should be asked about whether or not this was a hate-motivated crime,” Saunders said.

Transgender deaths in the U.S.

Dos Passos is at least the second trans person killed this month in South Florida.

On April 3, a woman shot a 36-year-old trans man at The Village at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. Latoya Arnold died days later at the hospital. Hallandale Beach police have not released the name of the suspect, who knew Arnold.

It was initially called an “isolated incident,” but police have not said what prompted it.

READ MORE: Miami man who allegedly murdered trans woman was on probation. His criminal past is lengthy

Of 229 hate crime offenses reported in Florida in 2022, about 24% were motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, according to the latest Hate Crimes in Florida report from the state attorney general’s office.

In 2023, at least 32 transgender people were killed in the United States, statistics from the Human Rights Campaign show. Of those, 84% of victims were people of color, 50% were Black transgender women.