No one really knows what made Dana Rivers, a pioneering transgender activist who was once a respected high school teacher, snap and brutally murder a married lesbian couple and their adopted son at their Oakland, California, home just after midnight on Nov. 11, 2016.
But last week, seven years on, Rivers was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the killings and sent to a California state women’s prisoners — creating a new flashpoint over transgender prisoners, and sparking anger among activists.
Rivers had been in a county jail until the sentencing, but was sent to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, a beneficiary of a California law which took effect in 2021, allowing prisoners to request that their gender identity decides where they are held.
Activists, however, told The Post that they believed Rivers’ crime had been a “hate crime against women,” making sending Rivers to an all-women’s prison potentially dangerous.
Rivers shot Charlotte Reed, 56, twice and stabbed her 40 times. Rivers shot her wife, Patricia Wright, 57, in the back and left breast and stabbed her in the neck and shoulder, and fatally shot their 19-year-old son Benny, whom the couple had adopted from Africa.
After a neighbor heard gunshots and called the police, officers arrived at the home to find a blood-soaked Rivers, then 61, holding a can of gasoline, according to court papers. Knives and ammo were found in her pockets, police said.
Rivers knew Reed from the all-female motorcycle club, the Deviants, of which both were members and where Rivers served as “enforcer.”
She fought a lengthy court battle against going on trial, with her legal team claiming she was legally insane, but was convicted by an Alameda County jury in November, and finally sentenced last week.
Rivers had been a high-profile and pioneering transgender women, who was open about her transition in 1999, discussing it with ABC News’ 20/20 shortly after she had surgery in 2001.
Activist Kara Dansky said she believed the killings were a “hate crime” and that the jury should have known Rivers was born male. Dansky, who attended part of Rivers’ trial, wrote updates about it on her website, and referred to Rivers as “he” when speaking to The Post.
“When women kill they don’t usually do it so brutally,” activist Kara Dansky, the author of “The Abolition of Sex: How the Transgender Agenda Harms Women and Girls” told The Post.
“There was something truly vile about the way this was carried out and his obvious hatred of her. My feeling from knowledge of the case is that he killed her because he couldn’t be her and he shouldn’t be in prison with other women.”
The activists blame, in part, California’s SB132, the “Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act,” authored by State Sen. Scott Wiener, for enabling what they see as dangerous trans women to enter female-only prisons.
“I threw up when I heard that law,” Amie Ichikawa, 41, who runs Women II Women, a support group for ex female prisoners as well as those currently incarcerated. “It provides privileges…that no other prisoners in the state get.”
Ichikawa, who served five years at Chowchilla over a drug deal gone bad, told The Post she doesn’t necessarily think that Rivers, who reportedly has had gender reassignment surgery, should go to a men’s prison either. However, she does believe that Rivers committed a “hate crime.”
But she added that, in the absence of prisons just for trans inmates, more care should be taken as to where Rivers is housed at Chowchilla.
According to Ichikawa, inmates who were born biological females are scared of trans inmates. “They get very anxious when a [trans woman] gets processed in,” she said. “Even when they’re post-op, if they get mad they go right back to angry man mode.”
Ichikawa also claims that the Wiener bill allows trans women inmates to pick and choose where they are housed within women’s prisons, including choosing their own “bunkies” and cells.
“I got my ass whupped by my bunkie for three months but when I went to a housing officer to ask for a transfer to a different unit she just looked at me and said, what kind of Asian are you‚ Chinese, Japanese or on your knees?” Ichikawa said.
“I was devastated. But if I were a trans prisoner I could pick and choose where I wanted to live and with who.”
The campaign against allowing transgender women in prison involves activists all over the country.
In April, #GetMenOut activists held a protest at the state Capitol in Trenton, reading letters from four biologically female inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, where one transgender inmate impregnated two women last year.
Rivers’ attorney, Melissa Adams, said she is “disgusted” by statements made by Ichikawa and other activists who decry Rivers’ incarceration at Chowchilla.
“I’m shocked that we’re even having this discussion in 2023,” Adams told The Post Friday. “I think these people are just full of hate. And for the record, Dana won’t be impregnating any women in prison.”
Adams admitted, though, that she doesn’t think anyone will know what really happened or why during the night of the triple homicide in Oakland. Rivers pleaded not guilty and a notice of appeal has been filed but the defense was flimsy.
Adams filed a 36-page motion arguing that prosecutors focused too much on the biker gang and not enough on alleged strife between Reed and Wright, the Mercury-News reported earlier this month. At one point Adams unsuccessfully argued that Rivers was legally insane when she committed the murders.
Rivers’ conviction on triple homicide charges was a stunning twist in an already dramatic past.
Born David Warfield she was a suburban Sacramento teacher when she began hormone treatments and surgeries in 1999.
When she told school district officials about her plans, they placed her on administrative leave after a small group of parents complained and eventually fired her.
She sued and reached a $150,000 settlement which helped pay for her $50,000 sex reassignment surgery in 2000.
As a transgender activist, Rivers was part of a group called Camp Trans which successfully campaigned in 2015 to shut down an annual women-only music festival for lesbians in Michigan called MichFest.
Her life took a darker turn when she joined the Deviants, an all-female offshoot of the Hells Angels biker gang, and took on the role of “enforcer” – complete with the nickname “Edge” and a plethora of tattoos.
Prosecutors told the jury that Rivers was proud of her role as the gang heavy and that she had a tattoo identifying herself as a “1 percenter” — a reference to the small number of motorcycle clubs that are criminal.
They said she knew Reed from Reed’s brief membership in the Deviants and that her motive in killing Reed, though never clear, may have stemmed from anger over Reed leaving the club.
But Rivers said back then that despite a lifetime of being “macho and a daredevil,” she was anguished living as a man.
“I lived a lifetime full of depression,” she said. “I was suicidal. My life had been a train wreck.”