17 DOC Officers Face Discipline In Death Of Transgender Inmate Layleen Polanco

WCBS 880 Newsroom
June 26, 2020 - 8:02 pm

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — At least 17 members of the city’s Corrections Department will face departmental charges for the roles in the death of a transgender Rikers Island inmate last June.

    Layleen Polanco, 27, was found unresponsive in restrictive housing – a form of solitary confinement – last June after suffering from seizures caused by epilepsy, despite officials having been informed of her health conditions. 

    Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that 17 uniform Department of Correction staff will be charged for their conduct surrounding her death.

    Three officers and one captain have been suspended without pay effective immediately. It was not immediately clear what disciplinary actions to remaining 13 would face. 

    The discipline came as the Bronx District Attorney filed no charges following their own six-month investigation into the circumstances surrounding Polanco’s death.

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

    The case gained the attention of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who once again called for the dismissal of all officers involved and demanded an end to solitary confinement and cash bail.

    “The treatment of Layleen Polanco inside Rikers is a moral travesty and, as the Board of Corrections report has now confirmed, in direct violation of corrections policy. The corrections officers involved must be fired, and we must end solitary confinement and divest from prisons," said Ocasio-Cortez in a statement.

    This statement follows the release of a Board of Corrections’ report on Polanco's death, which found that she was placed in solitary against a physician's advice and the City's transgender corrections housing policy contributed to the decision to place her in solitary confinement. 

    A recently released video also shows guards laughing outside Polanco’s cell shortly before her death and indicates that officers tried to wake her for approximately an hour and a half before calling for help.

    Department of Corrections Commissioner Cynthia Brann maintains that officers do their best to ensure the safety of all inmates at Rikers Island.

    "We are committed to ensuring that all of our facilities are safe and humane. Even one death in our custody is one too many and this swift and fair determination on internal discipline makes clear that the safety and well-being of people in our custody remains our top priority,” said Brann.

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