Suspect Identified in Shooting Death of Pittsburgh Native, Black Trans Woman Phylicia Mitchell

Phylicia Coulson Brown
Photo via Phylicia’s Facebook page.

On February 24, a Pittsburgh native was shot to death in broad daylight outside her Cleveland residence. Her name was Phylicia Mitchell and she was a Black trans woman who had relocated to Cleveland after growing up on Pittsburgh’s Northside. She was 46.

Tonight comes word that Cleveland police have identified a suspect in her murder – Gary Sanders, a 36-year-old East Cleveland man has been charged with aggravated murder. He is not in police custody; a warrant has been issued.

According to Cleveland news reports, Sanders showed up at Phylicia’s home with a gun over what’s labeled a ‘drug debt’

Sanders went to the home to collect a drug debt and the two argued about stolen drugs and money, according to court records.

The argument turned into a fight over Sanders’ gun, court records say. The gun fired and a bullet hit Mitchell in the chest, killing her, according to court records.

Sanders has an extensive criminal history. And he’s on the loose. Great.

Sanders has been convicted in 17 felony cases since 2002, including six times for drug trafficking and seven times for drug possession. Other convictions include domestic violence, obstructing justice and receiving stolen property.

He was most recently convicted in 2015 for selling heroin and crack cocaine in Lakewood. He was sentenced sentenced to 18 months in prison after he violated the terms of his probation.

Sanders was acquitted in a 2004 bench trial on an attempted murder charge in connection with a shooting during an attempted robbery in downtown Cleveland.


I hope this man is in custody very soon. That sounds painfully inadequate. I’m not aware of any memorial events or vigils for Phylicia. Sadly, her obituary uses her deadname within quotation marks which is better than the other way around, but still … Phylicia deserved the dignity in death she was denied by the person who killed her.

When I learned about her murder, I approached nearly every single media outlet in this region. I gave them data on the ‘trend’ of murdered transgender people, especially Black women. I spoke about the number of QTPOC who have died violent deaths in this region since 2013.

Not a single outlet, not a single one, could take a few minutes to report on Phylicia’s life and death. When Pittsburghers die violently while out-of-town or after moving away, that tie to our region is on the news all of the time. Those of you who watch the news know this to be true. When someone dies and their murder is part of a national epidemic of violence, it should be mentioned. Phylicia’s family and friends are still here in Pittsburgh. It was and remains a genuine story for the regional media. Shame on them for overlooking Phylicia and by extension QTPOC and all trans folks.

I have more to say on this bias in the local media about violence and LGBTQ people, but I will save it for another post. Just know, those of you from the media who actually read my blog, you are doing a disservice to the community by not reporting Phylicia’s story. And we see you turning a blind eye.

Phylicia’s murder was the 5th reported death so far as of the end of February. As of early April, we have lost 8 of our transgender siblings and neighbors.

The list of trans people killed in 2018 thus far. Note that people have different numbers based on different factors. The most important thing that unites us all is that we want the violence to stop. We need to keep asking ‘Where is the outrage?’ During 2017, we lost at least 25 trans neighbors. May 2018 be more merciful.

  1. Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien – Massachusetts (January 6) 42 years old
  2. Viccky Gutierrez – Los Angeles (January 9), 33 years old
  3. Tonya ‘Kita’ Harvey – Buffalo (February 6), 35 years old
  4. Celine Walker –  Jacksonville, Florida (February 4), 36 years old
  5. Phylicia Mitchell – Cleveland (February 23), 46 years old
  6. Zakaria Fry – Stanley, New Mexico (February 19), 28 years old
  7. Amia Tyrae Berryman – Baton Rouge (March 26), 28 years old
  8. Sasha Wall – Chesterfield, South Carolina (April 1), 29 years old

Trans Women of Color

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