17 Rikers guards will be disciplined in the death of Layleen Polanco

Seventeen New York City correctional officers, including a captain, will face disciplinary action for their role in the death, just over a year ago, of a 27-year-old transgender woman in the Rikers Island prison complex, the women said Friday. authorities.

The captain and three other officers were immediately suspended without pay for their conduct in the death of the woman, Layleen Polanco, who was found unanswered in her cell after an epileptic seizure, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

“What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable and it is essential that there be responsibility,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement.

The mayor’s announcement came three weeks after Darcel D. Clark, Bronx district attorney, said he had refused to file criminal charges against Rikers’ officers after a six-month investigation into the death of Ms. Polanco.

On Tuesday, the city’s Board of Correction released a scathing report detailing a series of flaws that it said likely contributed to Ms. Polanco’s death. The deficiencies noted by the board included Rikers’ staff members who were unable to control her for 35 and 41 minute periods during critical hours after she was last seen alive.

Lawyers for Ms. Polanco’s family said the disciplinary charges were an important first step in ensuring accountability for Ms. Polanco’s death, but they criticized the delay of officials in punishing prison officials. .

“Most employers would not wait a year before trying to remedy a problem of this magnitude,” David Shanies, an attorney for the family.

He added: “The Layleen case exposed so many of the flaws that we still have in our criminal justice system that still need to be addressed.”

Elias Husamudeen, president of the Benevolent Association of Correction Officers, promised to fight the suspensions.

“These suspensions represent an appalling abuse of power that is unprecedented,” Husamudeen said in a statement. He noted that Ms. Clark had decided not to file criminal charges and said members of her union were being “thrown under the bus.”

Husamudeen said that Cynthia Brann, the city’s correction commissioner, and “her inept managers” were responsible for the death of Ms. Polanco.

At the time of her death, on June 7, 2019, Ms. Polanco was being held in solitary confinement, after being jailed about two months earlier on charges of assault for misdemeanor offenses and was unable to obtain a $ 500 bond. .

“We are committed to ensuring that all of our facilities are safe and humane,” 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.”