The video is the latest piece of evidence in the death of the 27-year-old and appears to indicate a clear violation of jail policies that said she needed to be checked every 15 minutes.
New footage from outside the jail cell in which a trans woman died last year shows that her death could've been prevented if the prison guards had acted faster. Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco died at her Rikers Island jail cell in New York City last June after she was left unchecked by correction officers for a roughly 45-minute stretch. The video is the latest piece of evidence in the death of the 27-year-old and appears to indicate a clear violation of jail policies that said she needed to be checked every 15 minutes.
Thinking of Ms. Layleen Cubilette-Polanco Xtravaganza on what would have been her 28th birthday. She was taken from the world too soon, but her spirit lives on through her bio, chosen, and house families, and the family she makes every time her story is shared. #RestInPower 💗 pic.twitter.com/2omCD0ef4i— Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) October 5, 2019
According to NBC News, Polanco's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of New York and several Riker's staffers. They say the 10 hours of footage taken from a surveillance camera outside her cell shows that the staff failed to provide her with medical care that could have saved her life. "The video is the last piece of the puzzle," said David Shanies, an attorney for Polanco’s family in the lawsuit. "It's the last bit of indifference to her life that we saw and recklessness to a person who obviously needed help." According to a medical examiner's report, Polanco died in solitary confinement on June 7, 2019, after an epileptic seizure.
Aracelis Cubilette, mother of Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette Polanco, wipes away tears at a press conference on the steps of City Hall. pic.twitter.com/pp4dMyNP5g— Rosa Goldensohn (@RosaGoldensohn) June 26, 2019
Meanwhile, earlier this month, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said that after a six-month investigation she would not file any criminal charges against staff members at Rikers Island’s Rose M. Singer Center. "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," she said. Clark’s office also compiled a detailed 24-page report on Polanco’s death in which it was found that staff members at the women’s facility left her alone for up to 47 minutes around the time of her death—a violation of jail policy requiring checks on prisoners in solitary confinement every 15 minutes, reports Buzzfeed News.
Prison guards at Rikers laughed at and watched a Black trans woman unresponsive in her cell for 90 minutes before bothering to tell medical personal. Layleen Polanco was arrested for a misdemeanor and they killed her for it. https://t.co/itRHfDrsaj #BlackTransLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/UWfzZyeo96— Ari Drennen (@AriDrennen) June 13, 2020
According to the report, at 12:50 p.m. on the day of her death, a corrections officer "made her rounds again and looked into Ms. Polanco’s cell. When she glanced into the cell, she saw Ms. Polanco, who she believed to be asleep, under the blankets, with her head towards the wall closest to her face." Officials reported seeing her in about the same position when they looked into her cell at 1.40 p.m. to see if she wanted to go to group therapy. A correction officer told investigations she believed Polanco "was breathing and that she was asleep with headphones in. The two Correction Officers walked away without entering the cell."
Dear @BronxDAClark,— Queerly Chaotic M (@Mx_M_reads) June 10, 2020
The system failed Layleen Polanco, an Afro-Latinx trans woman who died in solitary confinement at Rikers last year. Your office deadnamed her in this week's press release. The People demand an official apology. #Justice4Layleen pic.twitter.com/FYlLwvNEcX
Polanco was in the same position when guards checked in on her at 2.40.p.m. When officers "opened the door and began calling out for her from inside her cell," they found her "in the bed and turned her over. They found that she was unresponsive, had vomit on her face, and was not breathing." The first time a correction officer went into the cell was at 2:48 p.m. and Polanco was declared dead at 3:45 p.m. Staffers maintain they thought Polanco was asleep in her cell before they finally opened it to find her unresponsive. The report also states that when Polanco was brought to Rikers, she "made DOC aware that she suffered from a seizure disorder" and that she suffered at least two documented, visible seizures during her time on Rikers Island.
‘A $500 bail gave her a death sentence.’ — Trans woman Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco died in solitary confinement at Rikers. Her family sued NYC to get answers. pic.twitter.com/JifYw1dg2h— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 22, 2019
LGBTQ+ activists have criticized Polanco's death as an example of the dehumanization transgender women face behind bars. "You could see on the video that multiple officers are staring into Layleen’s cell knocking, waiting, calling other people over to look," said Shanies. "At certain points, people spend five to 10 minutes just staring through the window, into the cell. It's not something that you do for somebody who you think is asleep." Polanco’s sister, Melania Brown, is now calling for solitary confinement to be banned in New York City altogether. She also urged the city to get serious about how it treats trans women after DOI’s report published Polanco’s deadname.
Newly released surveillance camera footage shows prison staff laughing before seeking medical help for Layleen Polanco, who died in her cell at Rikers last June https://t.co/s3qysmrgBT pic.twitter.com/ZcMDvPlJMn— Jezebel (@Jezebel) June 13, 2020
"I wasn't surprised that the report was going to find the police not guilty," Brown said. "What bothered me the most was deadnaming. The public and myself and my family deserve a public apology. It clearly shows their bias." Although the DOI apologized on Twitter for misgendering Polanco, her deadname remains on the official report. Polanco was arrested last April on misdemeanor assault charges and held on $500 bail dating back to a 2017 prostitution charge.