NYC sued over death of trans woman Layleen Polanco in Rikers jail

New York City is being sued for the death of transgender inmate Layleen Polanco in Rikers jail, allegedly caused by the “deliberate indifference” of corrections workers.

Polanco, 27, was arrested on April 16 on a misdemeanour charge. Unable to make the $500 bail, she was imprisoned in the notorious Rikers Island jail. She was found dead in her cell on June 7.

Last month officials ruled the cause of her death was complications from epilepsy. Polanco’s family are now suing the city and several officials for failing to provide proper care for her disabilities.

“Layleen is dead because the City of New York and its [Department of Correction] and Health + Hospitals / Correctional Health Services (‘CHS’) personnel failed to provide her safe housing, adequate medical care, and proper accommodation for her disabilities,” says the suit.

As well as epilepsy, Polanco also suffered from schizophrenia. Despite this, on May 30 she was sentenced to 20 days of solitary confinement while awaiting trial.

(Facebook/Layleen Cubilette-Polanco)

Advocate reports that prison officials authorised this even though they knew Polanco’s condition would put her “at heightened risk of death or serious physical harm if placed in segregation.” DOC policies forbid this.

The lawsuit also states that Polanco received no treatment for a head injury, nor any screening for how it might affect her epilepsy.

She had been dead so long that first responders found her body cold to the touch

When corrections officers found her unresponsive, they did not try to determine whether she needed medical attention, and it wouldn’t be another two hours until officials even realised she was dead.

“She had been dead so long that first responders found her body cold to the touch,” the suit says. “Epileptics need consistent, 24-hour monitoring because of the risk of death from suffocation and other hazards seizures cause.

“Inmates placed in restricted housing and solitary confinement do not receive such constant monitoring, and instead are ignored and left in their cells for hours at a time.”

Polanco’s death has led to protests by numerous activist groups. On Tuesday (August 13) New York City Anti-Violence Project spokesman Eliel Cruz tweeted:

Transgender inmates at greater risk

In the US about 3,200 inmates identify as transgender, and almost 40 percent report being sexually assaulted in prison, according to the ACLU.

Nearly a third are placed in solitary confinement, mostly because they are vulnerable to attacks from other inmates.

The majority of states still imprison people based on their legal gender or the gender they were assigned at birth — an experience that can be traumatising and puts them in greater danger.

Donald Trump has reversed many changes made by the Obama administration to protect transgender inmates, including allowing them to be housed according to their gender identity.