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A woman died in solitary confinement because she was trans. Her family was just awarded $6 million in a wrongful death suit

Lily Wakefield September 1, 2020
trans woman Layleen Cubilette-Polanco solitary confinement

(Facebook/Layleen Cubilette-Polanco)

The family of Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, a trans woman who died in solitary confinement at a New York jail after she was unable to pay her $500 bail, has been awarded almost $6 million.

Cubilette-Polanco was arrested on a misdemeanour charge and later suffered a fatal epileptic seizure in solitary confinement at Rikers Island jail. She died on June 7, 2019 aged 27.

She had been sentenced to 20 days in the solitary cell while awaiting trial, despite the objections of at least one doctor due to her history of seizures. She also suffered from schizophrenia.

In August, 2019, Cubilette-Polanco’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against New York City and various Rikers employees.

It recently emerged that she was placed in solitary confinement because jail officials didn’t want her on a women’s ward, and she went unchecked by corrections officers for a roughly 45-minute stretch, despite jail policies stating she needed to be checked every 15 minutes.

According to The City, New York City has now reached a record $5.9 million settlement with Cubilette-Polanco’s family.

The family’s lawyer, David Shanies, said in a statement: “This settlement will allow Layleen’s family to move forward without enduring years of protracted litigation and reliving their trauma.

“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.”

A report compiled by New York City’s board of correction this year confirmed that Cubilette-Polanco was neglected while incarcerated, but the Bronx District Attorney’s Office concluded that jail staffers were not criminally responsible for her death.

Her sister, Melania Brown, said that the settlement did not constitute justice, and did not mean that jail officials should not be held accountable.

Brown said: “This is just the beginning of justice for my sister, this is not even close to being justice for her.

“Justice would be holding those people who had something to do with my sister’s death accountable for their actions.”

The city’s law department added in a statement: “The death of Ms Polanco was an absolute tragedy and our thoughts remain with her family and loved ones.

“The city will continue to do everything it can to make reforms towards a correction system that is fundamentally safer, fairer and more humane.”

 

More: jail, Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, New York, Rikers Island, settlement, solitary confinement, trans woman

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