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NYC to Pay $5.9 Million in Layleen Polanco Case — Trans Inmate Death

Layleen Polanco and her sister Melanie brown

The historic settlement comes after over a year of outcry and dogged pressure.

Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco died of a seizure while imprisoned in June 2019. The death came after nine days in solitary confinement at the Rose M. Singer Center on Riker's Island. Following her death Polanco's family as well as organizations like the Anti-Violence Project demanded an investigation, questioned circumstances surrounding the death, and criticized the governmental actions that followed. The family eventually filed suit. Uncovered video footage showed that the death may have been preventable. Now, after a June 2020 decision by the Bronx district attorney to not press charges, New York City will settle the lawsuit surrounding the matter for $5.9 million.

"This settlement will allow Layleen's family to move forward without enduring years of protracted litigation and reliving their trauma," David Shanies, who is the lawyer representing Polanco's family in the much-publicized case, told THE CITY. "This being the largest settlement in the city's history for a death in jail should serve as a powerful statement that trans lives matter." There has been no announcement of any firing as a result of the case.

"The death of Ms. Polanco was an absolute tragedy and our thoughts remain with her family and loved ones," New York City's Law Departement said in a statement. "The city will continue to do everything it can to make reforms towards a correction system that is fundamentally safer, fairer and more humane." Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a change to solitary confinement rules as a result of the case in June, making it against protocol to place any one with seizure conditions and other health problems to be placed there. He also said that this was a part of an overall plan to eventually end solitary confinement altogether. An expected date has not come yet.

"I want everyone that had something to do with my sister's death to be held accountable," Polanco's sister, Melania Brown told Out in a cover story commemorating Polanco last year. She reiterated that point this summer in a speech at the Brooklyn Liberation March. "I'm not giving up. They go home to their loved ones, and I feel empty every single day, watching my mom and hearing her cry out for her child. I'm not going to stop until justice is served. I'm coming for justice, and I'm going to get it." This settlement, as she told THE CITY, is only the start.

"This is just the beginning of justice for my sister, this is not even close to being justice for her," she said. "Justice would be holding those people who had something to do with my sister's death accountable for their actions."

The Anti-Violence Project has called for the New York State Legislature to end solitary confinement in New York City jails, for the repeal of the Walking While Trans ban, and for the correction officers and their captain involved in the death to be fired.

RELATED | Layleen Cubilette-Polanco Died in the System, but Her Fight Lives On

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