17 COs disciplined in death of Rikers Island inmate

There was a 47-minute gap in which inmate Layleen Polanco wasn't checked on by COs despite her epilepsy


By Paul Liotta
Staten Island Advance

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — City officials announced Friday that 17 uniformed members of the Department of Correction would be disciplined in relation to 2019 death of transgender woman on Rikers Island.

Layleen Polanco, 27, died while in solitary confinement on June 7 stemming from complications with epilepsy, according to a Department of Investigation report. She was in solitary confinement for assaulting other prisoners, according to the report.

Commissioner Cynthia Brann said the discipline of the 17 officers was a sign that the DOC is concerned about the safety of those in its custody. (Photo/AP)
Commissioner Cynthia Brann said the discipline of the 17 officers was a sign that the DOC is concerned about the safety of those in its custody. (Photo/AP)

According to the report, Polanco had been arrested April 13, 2019 after she allegedly refused to pay a taxi fare and bit the driver’s face.

A media release from the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio did not offer much detail on what kind of discipline most of the department members would face, but said three officers and one captain were suspended without pay.

“The death of Layleen Polanco was an incredibly painful moment for our city,” de Blasio said. “What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable and it is critical that there is accountability.”

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark declined to press charges earlier this month following a joint investigation between her office and the DOI.

Clark said in a June 5 media release that her office declined to press charges, because it would be unable to prove that any crime was committed that resulted in Polanco’s death.

“A 27-year-old woman died in custody in a city jail, and the circumstances of her death warranted a full and thorough investigation. Layleen Polanco died from an epileptic seizure,” Clark said.

“Her family and friends along with the public deserved to know whether anything else played a role in her death. It is an absolute tragedy that Ms. Polanco died so young,” she continued.

According to the DOI report, there was a 47-minute gap in which Polanco was not checked on by officers despite her epilepsy, and DOC rules mandating 15-minute checks for those in solitary.

Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann said the discipline of the 17 officers was a sign that the DOC is concerned about the safety of those in its custody.

“We are committed to ensuring that all of our facilities are safe and humane,” Brann said. Even one death in our custody is one too many and this swift and fair determination on internal discipline makes clear that the safety and well-being of people in our custody remains our top priority.”

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©2020 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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