More than a dozen officers from the New York City Department of Correction will be disciplined for their conduct surrounding the death of Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, 27, a transgender woman who died last year while in solitary confinement in the Rikers Island jail.
Three officers and a captain will be suspended without pay immediately, the department said in a statement on Friday. It was not immediately clear what disciplinary measures the remaining 13 officers would face.
The announcement comes several weeks after Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark declined to press charges after a six-month investigation into the circumstances of Cubilette-Polanco’s death.
“We are committed to ensuring that all of our facilities are safe and humane,” Department of Corrections Commissioner Cynthia Brann said in a statement. “Even one death in our custody is too much, and this swift and fair determination on internal discipline makes it clear that the safety and well-being of the people in our custody remains our top priority.”
Cubilette-Polanco died in June 2019 after being placed in solitary confinement despite objections from at least one doctor due to her history of seizures.
Refusing to file criminal charges, Clark said in a statement that “the scope of this office is not to determine if it was an incorrect decision” to put Cubilette-Polanco in solitary confinement. Instead, it was the role of the district attorney “to determine whether that decision rose to the level of criminal behavior.”
After an “in-depth investigation,” Clark’s office determined that it could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that officers committed a crime that caused the death of Cubilette-Polanco.
Several weeks before her death, Cubilette-Polanco had been hospitalized in Elmhurst Hospital prison for psychiatric care after “showing radical changes in behavior,” such as screaming, crying, rolling on the floor, talking to herself, expressing thoughts suicidal and accusing a prison guard, according to a report by the Board of Correction.
After returning to Rikers Island, prison staff tried to send her to restrictive housing or solitary confinement, as punishment for accusing the guard, according to the report. However, a psychiatrist “verbally stated that due to [her] medical history related to seizure disorder, which he could not authorize [sic] a cell housing location ”in a restrictive housing unit.
Cubilette-Polanco died after suffering an epileptic seizure, according to the coroner’s report.
“The death of Layleen Polanco was an incredibly painful time for our city,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Friday. “What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable and responsibility is essential.”