Update (August 31, 2020): The family of Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old woman who died in solitary confinement on Rikers Island last June, has agreed to a record-breaking settlement against the city of New York.
According to The City, the Polanco family was awarded $5.9 million — a record for an incarcerated person’s death in an NYC jail.
The family of #LayleenPolanco, a trans woman who died at Rikers in solitary, will receive $5.9 million from NYC.
She died in June 2019 after a seizure. A report found guards did not check on her for up to 57 min before her death, despite mandatory 15 min checks.
She was 27. pic.twitter.com/QED9vNaVqc
— AJ+ (@ajplus) August 31, 2020
“This settlement will allow Layleen’s family to move forward without enduring years of protracted litigation and reliving their trauma,” the family’s lawyer, David Shanies, told The City. “This being the largest settlement in the city’s history for a death in jail should serve as a powerful statement that trans lives matter.”
As Blavity previously reported, the 27-year-old was found unresponsive in her cell in solitary confinement at Rikers on June 7, 2019. Although her records indicate jail staff was aware of her medical condition, the city’s medical examiner determined she died from complications related to epilepsy.
Polanco, who was jailed for misdemeanors, remained behind bars for approximately two months because she couldn’t afford to pay her bail.
The city’s law department released a statement on Sunday committing to social change.
“The death of Ms. Polanco was an absolute tragedy and our thoughts remain with her family and loved ones. The city will continue to do everything it can to make reforms towards a correction system that is fundamentally safer, fairer and more humane,” the statement read.
Melania Brown, Polanco’s sister, said the settlement is just the beginning bringing the people responsible for the 27-year-old’s death to justice.
“This is just the beginning of justice for my sister, this is not even close to being justice for her,” Brown said. ”Justice would be holding those people who had something to do with my sister’s death accountable for their actions.”
Following Polanco’s unfortunate death, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a news conference that the city will cease the practice of solitary confinement.
“Layleen Polanco should not have been in Rikers to begin with. Layleen Polanco should not have been in solitary confinement and lord knows, she deserves justice. Her family deserves justice, the transgender community deserves justice. We have to right the wrong. We can't bring her back, but we can make change so that no one else goes through such a tragedy," he said.
In June, city officials announced 17 officers will face disciplinary action in connection to Polanco’s death. Four of the officers were suspended without pay, the AP reported.
Original (August 16, 2019): The family of Layleen Polanco, the Afro-Latinx woman found dead on Rikers Island, is continuing their fight for justice.
The mother of the 27-year-old, Aracelis Polanco, took legal action this week against New York City, according to The New York Daily News. She filed a lawsuit that alleges the Department of Correction and Correctional Health Services failed to provide her daughter with "safe housing, adequate medical care, and proper accommodation for her disabilities."
On Thursday, Polanco’s sister, Melania Brown, joined dozens of advocates who took to the streets in protest, urging for change.
“WALK FOR LAYLEEN!”
Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza’s sister walks the runway at #BallToAction. #Justice4Layleen
— Jason Rosenberg (@mynameisjro) August 15, 2019
Polanco was found unresponsive in her cell in solitary confinement at the notorious jail in June. Despite the city’s medical examiner ruling in July that Polanco died from complications from epilepsy, experts told local online publication, The City, that her seizure disorder should’ve kept her out of solitary confinement. Their report also includes concerns about her placement from one former jail medical staffer who said her condition was included in records upon her being detained. Polanco, who was behind bars on misdemeanor sex work and drug possession charges, had a bail of $500. She remained in jail for approximately two months because she couldn’t afford to pay it.
Shortly after her death, several LGBTQ organizations and local politicians demanded answers from city officials in the probe. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was among those condemning the city and pushing for further explanation in the case.
“Layleen’s family deserves to know what happened to her,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.
Polanco’s death also ignited a broader conversation surrounding solitary confinement with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren sharing on social media that she “should still be alive.”
“Solitary confinement is cruel and inhumane. We must end this practice, enforce strict standards for medical care, and provide extra layers of protection for LGBTQ+ people,” Warren said.