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The Bronx District Attorney’s Office has announced it will not pursue criminal charges in the death of a transgender woman who died while in custody at Riker’s Island.
District Attorney Darcel Clark said her office would not prosecute jail staff for the death of 27-year-old Layleen Polanco, an Afro-Latinx trans woman who died from an epileptic seizure while in custody at the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island.
Polanco had been placed in solitary confinement for 20 days at the time of her death after she became involved in a fight with another inmate.
According to a 24-page report from the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, Polanco went to the health clinic on June 7 and ate lunch just after 12 p.m. She returned to her cell and was sleeping when an officer knocked on the door around 2:40 p.m.
The officer did not hear a response, but authorities didn’t open the door until more than an hour later, when they found her unresponsive, reports the New York Daily News.
Polanco’s family later filed a civil lawsuit against the city and prison officials, claiming that staff did not provide proper accommodations, including medical care and safe housing, for her under the American with Disabilities Act.
The lawsuit also claims the Department of Corrections violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights of due process and equal protection under the law.
Polanco’s family claims that prison officials were aware that Polanco suffered from epilepsy and schizophrenia, and had been treated for both while in custody, having had multiple seizures while in custody, and even suffering a head injury, which they allege went untreated.
But Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said her office would not be pursuing charges following a six-month investigation into her death.
“The purview of this office is not to determine whether it was a wrong decision to place Ms. Polanco into punitive segregation while she was suffering from a documented seizure disorder. The purview of this office is to determine whether that decision rose to the level of criminal behavior,” Clark said. “After an in-depth investigation by my Public Integrity Bureau, we have concluded that we would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any individual committed any crime associated with Ms. Polanco’s demise.”
The city’s Department of Investigation said on Friday that it did not find any evidence that prison staff contributed to Polanco’s death, but did note that there was a 47-minute gap between tours — which violates protocol requiring officers to check on people in solitary confinement every 15 minutes.
“We send our deepest condolences to Layleen’s family and friends,” Correction Department Commissioner Cynthia Brann said in a statement. “The safety and well being of people in our custody is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring that all of our facilities are safe and humane. Even one death in our custody is one too many. Now that DOI and the Bronx DA have issued their findings, we will be pursuing internal disciplinary measures as appropriate.”
David Shanies, the attorney representing Polanco’s family, said the family would continue to pursue charges against those responsible for her care whiel in custody.
“Layleen’s death was foreseeable, avoidable, and, yes, criminal,” Shanies told the Daily News. “We have known for quite some time that the District Attorney had no intention of pursuing criminal charges.
“The DOI has referred the case for internal discipline, but the Polanco family is not waiting for anyone else to deliver justice,” he added. “Layleen’s mother is pursuing a federal civil rights lawsuit and through the courts we will hold accountable those responsible for Layleen’s death.”
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