17 correction officers disciplined for the death of a trans woman on Rikers Island

Three officers and a captain of the New York City Department of Correction were immediately suspended without pay, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Friday. Thirteen other uniformed employees face disciplinary action, but officials did not discuss their status.

“The death of Layleen Polanco was an incredibly painful moment for our city,” said de Blasio. “What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable and responsibility is essential.”

She had been arrested for misdemeanor assault and harassment, court records show. She was detained because she missed court dates as part of an alternative to the incarceration program stemming from the prostitution charges, according to court records.

She was sent to jail because she was unable to post the $ 500 bond, her family said.

Polanco was placed in what she called a restrictive housing unit at the Rose M. Singer Center on May 30, 2019, after she was adjudicated for an assault that injured another person in custody, the Department of Corrections said.

She was found unanswered in her cell on June 7, 2019. When her autopsy was released, her family received records confirming that Polanco suffered multiple attacks while on Rikers Island, according to his family’s attorney, David Shanies.

Her death renewed the conversation about the dangers of cash bail, pretrial detention, and other policies that civil rights groups say contribute to the criminalization of transgender women of color and other vulnerable communities.
The announcement of the disciplinary measures comes after the decision by the Bronx district attorney’s office earlier this month not to file criminal charges after completing a six-month investigation into the death of Cubilette-Polanco.
Prosecutors concluded that “they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any person committed any crime associated with Ms. Polanco’s disappearance,” Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said in a statement.
She was sent to Rikers Island because she couldn't post a $ 500 bond. She is now dead and her family wants answers.

But Clark said investigators found that corrections officers did not follow the department’s policy of observing inmates in punitive segregation at least once every 15 minutes at irregular intervals.

“In this case, they allowed 47 minutes to elapse between tours of Ms. Polanco’s cell. This violation was referred to the Department of Commerce for appropriate administrative action,” Clark said.

The DOC describes the restrictive housing unit as a joint program with Correctional Health Services designed to “encourage participation in mental health programs.” Unit residents receive up to seven hours a day outside of their cell for programming, services and entertainment.

CNN’s Elizabeth Hartfield contributed to this report.