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17 correctional officers disciplined for transgender woman’s death at Rikers Island

Layleen Cubilette-Polanco died last year while she was in solitary confinement.

Layleen Cubilette-Polanco Courtesy of Melania Brown

Multiple correctional officers are facing disciplinary action in connection to the death of Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, a transgender woman who died last year as she was serving time at New York’s Rikers Island jail.

According to CNN, a captain of the New York City Department of Correction and three officers were suspended without pay immediately, said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement on Friday (June 26). Thirteen other officers will also be facing disciplinary action, but their status is unknown.

“The death of Layleen Polanco was an incredibly painful moment for our city,” de Blasio said. “What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable and it is critical that there is accountability.”

The autopsy report states that Cubilette-Polanco died last year of complications from epilepsy while she was in solitary confinement. She had been arrested on misdemeanor charges of harassment and assault, court records show. Her family says that she was sent to jail because she couldn’t afford the $500 bail.

On May 30, 2019, Cubilette-Polanco was placed in restrictive housing following an assault involving another person in custody. On June 7, she was found unresponsive in her cell. After her autopsy was released, the family confirmed that she suffered from multiple seizures while at Rikers.

Attorney David Shanies said that the victim’s family is glad to hear about the disciplinary action taken, but says there is a need for institutional accountability. “Suspending or even firing individual employees will not save the next Layleen from dying,” he said in a statement. “We need to treat trans women as women. We need to end abusive solitary confinement. We need to treat people in jail as humans deserving safety and dignity.”

Earlier this month, the New York City Department of Investigation and the Bronx District Attorney’s Office announced that the staff members were not responsible for Cubilette-Polanco’s death and declined to pursue criminal charges.

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