Jail staff deliberately ignored the fact that Layleen Polanco lay unresponsive for hours in solitary confinement at Rikers Island, a new federal lawsuit claims.
Aracelis Polanco, mother of the young transgender woman who died in custody on May 30 at Rikers, has hit New York City with a civil lawsuit seeking unspecified damages.
Joel Wertheimer, Aracelis' attorney, alleges that jail staff put Layleen in segregation for hours on end and failed to monitor her schizophrenia and epilepsy, threatening her life.
“There are a number of employees who we think were deliberately indifferent to her medical issues,” Wertheimer tells NewNowNext. “There were doctors who approved her to be there in solitary, which she shouldn't have been, and the city does this all the time.”
According to the suit, filed in the Eastern District of New York, Layleen suffered multiple seizures after her arrest for misdemeanor charges in April 2019. (She'd failed to make $500 bail.) Before her death, she was sentenced to 20 days in punitive segregation for a disciplinary infraction. She allegedly suffered face and head injuries before entering solitary.
“She was checked on infrequently by the Defendants and, when she was checked on, her condition was ignored, even when she was found non-responsive,” the complaint states.
In a statement, a representative from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said their thoughts are with Layleen’s family.
“Her death is particularly painful given the long and tragic history of injustice toward the transgender community, which we will not stand for,” the statement reads. “Any loss of life in our custody is unacceptable, and we must continue our work towards enacting long-term criminal justice reform.”
But that message rings hollow for some. Pose star Indya Moore, a fellow transgender woman of color who was friends with Layleen, blasted the Mayor for not meeting with Polanco’s family in the wake of her death.
Eliel Cruz, director of communications for the New York City Anti-Violence Project, says de Blasio needs to offer concrete steps about how the city will seek justice for Layleen’s death.
“The Mayor has the power to enact reforms that could save the lives of others in custody, particularly trans women of color who are continually subjected to violence both on New York City streets and within the criminal legal system,” Cruz tells NewNowNext. “Let’s not let another two months go by without giving Layleen’s family and our community the answers and reforms we need.”
Layleen, who was 27 when she died, was a member of NYC's house and ballroom community and also went by the name Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza. Friends, family, and loved ones from the House of Xtravaganza rallied in NYC shortly after her death to honor her life and demand justice from officials.