Charges filed in botched transgender surgery case; victim blames a broken health care system

The Denver District Attorney’s office today filed charges against a man who reportedly removed another person’s testicles last week in a botched surgery.

The victim, a transgender woman whose name has not been released, says she asked airline captain James Pennington, 57, to perform the surgery in her home last Wednesday, May 17.

The procedure reportedly took 90 minutes and was performed using an Army surgical medical kit.

When the victim began to lose blood several hours after the surgery, her wife called 911, and paramedics ultimately called police.

For his role in the procedure, Pennington, 57, has been charged with second-degree reckless assault, a class 4 felony, and the unauthorized practice of medicine, a class 2 misdemeanor. In Colorado, a class 4 felony carries between two to six years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $500,000.

In a letter sent to 9News, the woman said that she was indeed a victim — but not of Pennington.

“I am a victim of a society and healthcare system that focuses on trying to demonize transgender people and prevent us from getting the medical transition we need instead of trying to do what is best for us,” she wrote. “Arranging a back-alley surgery was out of pure desperation due to a system that failed me,” she added, imploring the public not to paint Pennington “as a monster.”

Colorado has no law requiring insurance providers to cover gender confirmation surgery.

Ken Lane, communications director for Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, says the office is “very sympathetic to the victim’s viewpoint, the victim’s concerns.” But he says that under the law, the DA has the sole responsibility for determining whether charges are filed — and the facts of the incident match the elements of a criminal offense.

Noting that he didn’t mean to sound crude, Lane added, “You just can’t have people wandering around cutting off others’ testicles without a license. It’s a tough case, it is unusual, but in terms of the elements of the offense, the elements are there. You file the charge.”

Lane said that neither the DA’s office nor the Denver Police Department detective working the case had ever heard of a similar incident.

The DA set bond at $50,000, and Mr. Pennington is now out on bail.

The second advisement in the case is scheduled for June 6 at 1:30 p.m. at the Denver County courthouse.

Photo via Denver Police Department