Transgender woman’s Rikers Island death was preventable, family says citing new footage

Cubilette-Polanco died at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in June 2019 while in solitary confinement

Layleen Polanco

New video footage has surfaced related to the death of Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, a transgender woman prisoner who died in a New York jail about a year ago, and her family is arguing that her death could’ve been prevented.

Cubilette-Polanco died at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in June 2019 while in solitary confinement.

Polanco’s family contends that the 10 hours of footage shows that Riker Island staff may have been responsible for her death, NBC News reports. As per facility rules, Rikers staff is required to check on those in solitary confinement every 15 minutes. The video footage shows that there was an almost hourlong gap that Polanco was not checked on.

READ MORE: Black transgender woman found dead in NYC lockup, but officials have few answers

The 47-minute gap was also noted in a report conducted by the New York City Department of Investigation. In addition, the video footage, which comes from a surveillance camera located in the restricted area outside of the confinement cell Polanco was put in, shows that Rikers staffers opened Polanco’s cell and call to her to come out.

Five minutes go by before another staff comes in with a defibrillator for an unresponsive Polanco. A stretcher was called, but Polanco, 27, was pronounced dead an hour after her cell was opened.

READ MORE: Coronavirus rips through notorious Rikers Island jail complex

Polanco was placed in punitive confinement for assaulting a correction officer. She was in Rikers for misdemeanor assault charges as well as prostitution from 2017. She was there because she had been unable to pay the $500 bail.

Polanco family attorney David Shanies said the new footage is “the last piece of the puzzle” in a wrongful death lawsuit against Rikers.

“It’s the last bit of indifference to her life that we saw and recklessness to a person who obviously needed help,” he said.

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