August 31, NEW YORK, NY The family of Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old Afro-Latinx trans woman who died while being held in solitary confinement in Rikers Island in June 2019, has settled their civil suit with the City of New York. The civil suit for reckless indifference for Layleen's life was settled for a financial settlement of 5.9 million dollars, the largest settlement paid by the City for a death in custody.
"My family made the difficult decision to settle our lawsuit with the City of New York. Despite the settlement, my family isn't done fighting. This lawsuit was only one way we were seeking justice for Layleen and this is only just the start." Melania Brown, Layleen's sister said. "To this day, despite evidence of negligence, no one has been held accountable for my sister's death. The guards who were responsible for caring for my sister must be fired."
In June of 2020, both the Department of Investigation and the Bronx's District Attorney Darcel Clarke released reports of their investigations declining to press charges against Rikers officials for Layleen's death. The reports, which initially deadnamed Layleen, claimed they found no criminal wrongdoing or negligence. A week later, the Polanco family released footage inside Rikers which showed Correctional Officers opening Layleen's cell and visibly laughing just moments before she was pronounced dead.
In response to the reports, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that seventeen correctional officers would be disciplined as well as the City's intent to end solitary confinement.
"Justice for Layleen is ending the conditions that led her to her death. It's ensuring no other family has to experience the grief my family now has to live with for the rest of our lives." Brown said. "My family would like to thank David Shanies and his firm for representing us, the New York City Anti-Violence Project for their tireless advocacy and support, and to every person who has demanded justice for Layleen. Our fight continues."
The New York City Anti-Violence Project ( AVP ) echoes Polanco's family's continued calls for justice and demands all of the Riker's officials responsible for Layleen's death be fired.
"The neglect and utter disregard for Layleen's life by prison officials is reprehensible. Solitary confinement for all must be ended immediately and concrete steps must be taken to ensure the safety of all trans and gender nonconforming people incarcerated, " Beverly Tillery, Executive Director of AVP said.
"Unfortunately, we know what happened to Layleen is reflective of thousands of transgender people who are regularly subjected to neglect and violence and stripped of their humanity within our nation's jails and prisons. These acts of state violence have to stop and we are calling on our city and state officials to take action now to ensure accountability for Layleen's tragic death, and to end the criminalization and disproportionate incarceration and abuse of transgender New Yorkers."
The New York City Anti-Violence Project calls for:
The NY State Legislature to pass the HALT Solitary Confinement Act and end solitary confinement in New York City jails.
The State to repeal #WalkingWhileTrans ban
The State to stop implementation of 2020 bail reform rollbacks
The Mayor's Office and/or the Department of Corrections fire correction officers and their captain involved in Layleen Polanco's death in solitary confinement at Rikers Island
The Department of Correction to create and maintain a database of records of Correctional Officers who have committed misconduct.
Representatives for the Polanco family, their attorney, and spokespersons from AVP are available for comment.
About Layleen: At the time of her death, Layleen Polanco was caught up in the violent bureaucracy of New York's criminal legal system. She died on Rikers Island on June 7th, 2019 while being detained on $500 bail on a misdemeanor charge. Polanco was being held due to a few missed court dates as part of the services she was mandated to in an alternative to incarceration program due to a prior arrest in a sting operation for sex work in 2017. Furthermore, she was being punished with solitary confinement even though officials at Rikers knew she had a serious medical condition that caused life-threatening seizures, as well as schizophrenia.
About AVP: The New York City Anti-Violence Project empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected communities and allies to end violence through organizing and education, and supports survivors through free counseling, legal serivces, advocacy.