Family of trans woman settle over her death at Rikers Island, but they say it’s not enough

The family of Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, who died while in solitary confinement on Rikers Island, will receive a record $5.9 million settlement from New York City.

According to several reports, the terms of the agreement reached on Friday have not been made public. But Polanco’s family attorney, David Shanies confirmed published reports on the amount. Shanies also told local media The city that it is the largest settlement in city history for a death in prison, and that it “should serve as a powerful statement about the importance of trans lives.”

“Despite the settlement, my family is not done fighting,” Polanco’s sister Melania Brown also said. in a report.

Polanco, a 27-year-old Afro-Latinx transgender woman, died of an epileptic seizure in a lonely prison cell on Rikers Island in June 2019. His death drew national attention, with criminal justice advocates and elected officials calling for the the injustices that transgender people coping in jail and demanding limits on solitary confinement in New York City prisons.

Polanco was arrested and sent to Rikers in April 2019 because she could not post $500 bond required to settle an outstanding warrant for two 2017 misdemeanors.

“A bond of $500 sentenced her to death. And it should never have happened that way,” Brown told NowThis in a 2019 video.

Polanco’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against New York and other defendants in August 2019 after his death. The lawsuit alleged that correctional officers did not check on her frequently, even though she was at risk of having a seizure.

“Epileptics require constant 24-hour monitoring because of the risk of death from suffocation and other seizure-related risks,” the lawsuit said.

Although the Bronx District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges in Polanco’s death, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in June that 17 officers would be disciplined, including four immediate suspensions without pay.

“Layleen Polanco’s death was an incredibly painful time for our city,” de Blasio said. “What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable and accountability is essential.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D), whose district includes Rikers, also called for the firing of personnel involved in the events that led to Polanco’s death.

“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 correctional policy,” she said. said in a June statement. “The prison officers involved must be fired, and we must end solitary confinement and get rid of prisons.”

Brown echoed AOC’s sentiments, while telling The City that the settlement did not replace the firing of the corrections officers involved in Palanco’s death.

“This is just the beginning of justice for my sister, it’s not even close to being justice for her,” she said. “Justice would hold those who had something to do with my sister’s death accountable for their actions.”

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