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17 New York guards disciplined for letting a trans prisoner choke to death on her own vomit

Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, transgender, dead, Riker's Island, lawsuit
Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-PolancoPhoto: Facebook

Seventeen New York City Department of Correction officers working at the Rikers Island prison are facing discipline for the June 2019 death of Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, a 27-year-old transgender member of New York City’s legendary Xtravaganza ballroom family.

Officers at the New York prison had placed Cubilette-Polanco into solitary confinement against the advice of at least one psychiatrist who worried that her history of seizures could put her at risk of injury or death if left unmonitored.

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But despite her history of schizophrenia and epilepsy (controlled by medication), and despite her having had two seizures while in custody at Riker’s, on May 30, 2019, a prison doctor cleared her for placement in isolation anyway.

Then, on June 7, 2019, she died in a solitary cell after guards failed to check on her once every 15 minutes as required by prison rules.

NBC News reports that after a six-month investigation into her death, Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark has decided against filing charges against the prison or its officers. However, three officers and one captain have been immediately suspended without pay. It’s unclear what disciplinary measures the others will face.

Clark said he declined to pursue charges because, despite video footage showing the guards failing in their timely duties and laughing outside of her cell, he felt his office wouldn’t be able to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that officers had committed a crime that led to Cubilette-Polanco’s death.

Officers found Cubilette-Polanco unresponsive and not breathing. She had vomit on her face.

Cubilette-Polanco had been in prison since April 2019 after being unable to pay a $500 bail related to a 2017 prostitution charge. She was placed in isolation for 20 days after allegedly assaulting another inmate and fighting against a corrections officer.

A Board of Corrections report said that a few weeks before her death, she had been a patient at the Elmhurst Hospital Prison Ward for psychiatric care. She went there following “radical changes in behavior” such as “shouting, crying, rolling around on the floor, talking to herself, expressing suicidal thoughts and charging at a jail guard,” NBC News writes.

In a statement issued Friday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “The death of Layleen Polanco was an incredibly painful moment for our city. What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable and it is critical that there is accountability.”

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