New York City Finally Decides to Hold Someone Accountable for Layleen Polanco's Death

Illustration for article titled New York City Finally Decides to Hold Someone Accountable for Layleen Polanco's Death
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More than a year after Layleen Polanco died neglected in her New York City jail cell, some of the individuals arguably responsible for her death might finally face some consequences.


City government officials announced on Friday that 17 corrections officers at Rikers Island will be disciplined in relation to their involvement with the 27-year-old Afro-Latina trans woman’s death in 2019, The New York Times reports. Of those 17 officers, four of them—including a captain—have been suspended without pay.

“The death of Layleen Polanco was an incredibly painful moment for our city,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, per BuzzFeed News. “What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable, and it is critical that there is accountability.”

Earlier in the week, the Board of Correction also released a report that would appear to undermine the Bronx District Attorney’s June 5 decision not to press criminal charges in relation to Polanco’s death. The oversight panel noted a number of failures on the part of the Rikers Island staffers, including, but not limited to, failing to check on Polanco every 15 minutes as required after they had punished her with solitary confinement—prison conditions that the United Nations has deemed torturous.

Punitive measures for the other 13 officers have not yet been confirmed, but an unnamed source told the Times that they will likely be charged with failure to tour, inefficient performance, and making fraudulent logbook entries.

Also known as Layleen Xtravaganza, Polanco was a beloved member of the House of Xtravaganza, one of the oldest and most legendary houses on the New York ballroom scene that is still active today. Her name—along with the names of other Black trans people killed by state and interpersonal violence like Tony McDade, Nina Pop, and Brayla Stone—have been invoked at countless Black Lives Matter protests over the past month.

Polanco was jailed in April of 2019 because she couldn’t afford to pay a $500 cash bail stemming from an arrest and several misdemeanor charges. She had epilepsy and had been prescribed anti-seizure medication to treat the disorder. All of that had been made clear to the corrections officers who not only put Polanco in punitive segregation—prohibited for people “with serious mental or serious physical disabilities or conditions,” the Times notes—but failed to adequately monitor her in the hours leading up to her death, which resulted from a seizure.


“All I want is justice for my sister,” Polanco’s sister, Melania Brown, told the Times. “The system needs to be changed from the bottom up… What about the cops behind those walls? No one talks about them enough.”

Freelance journalist (GQ, W, Esquire, elsewhere), here on weekends