Surveillance Video Shows Guards Laughing And Waiting 90 Minutes To Call For Help After Trans Inmate's Death
Layleen Polanco, a young transgender woman from New York City was found dead in a cell at Riker's prison on June 7, 2019.
Now, a year later, security footage of that evening reveals prison guards waited an hour and a half following Polanco's seizure to call emergency services.
The video, released by the Polanco family attorney, shows in frightening detail what little regard the Riker's guards had for Polanco's life.
Polanco, a member of the House of Xtravaganza, one of New York's most celebrated drag groups, was arrested when she couldn't pay the $500 bail for a misdemeanor assault in 2019.
The young woman suffered from epilepsy, which law enforcement was aware of. Jail policy stated clearly that Polanco needed to be checked on every 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, during a 45-minute stretch where officers ignored her, Polanco suffered a seizure.
This...diminishes all of us.
— irajoe (@irajoe8) June 14, 2020
The video released by the family shows a guard checking Polanco's cell at 1:42 PM.
She is not checked again until 2:27 PM.
So much love today for Layleen Polanco and her family. #blacktranslivesmatters #BROOKLYNLIBERATION #JusticeForLayleen pic.twitter.com/HfDPqEjcpU
— Adam Eli (@aewerner) June 14, 2020
Finally, at 2:45 PM, two officers knock on Polanco's door.
When she doesn't respond, the casually open the door. Video shows the officers laughing as they turn her over to find her face covered in vomit.
They call her name, but Polanco had already passed.
I painted this sign for Layleen Polanco, a beautiful young trans ballroom performer who died alone in a Solitary cell because she could not afford bail, and because snickering fools did not give her medical attention for her epilepsy
May she have justice pic.twitter.com/dnvIxMRFPg
— Molly Crabapple🇵🇷 (@mollycrabapple) June 15, 2020
Polanco's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against New York City and the staff involved with Layleen's death.
Their attorney, David Shanies, said of the video:
"The video is the last piece of the puzzle. It's the last bit of indifference to her life that we saw and recklessness to a person who obviously needed help."
On June 7th 2019 Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza was left for dead in RIKERS island in solitary confinement. She suffered from epilepsy, & those in solitary are to be checked on every 15 minutes. She was not checked on for 47 minutes and had died from an epileptic seizure.
— Thee Intelligent Hoodlum ✨♒️ (@LilLagniappe) June 14, 2020
Shanies also commented on the Polanco family's reaction to the shocking footage.
"It was horrifying for the family to see this footage. They were completely unprepared for what they saw."
"They all broke into hysterical crying, understandably. And to this day, Layleen's mother is haunted by the images of the guard laughing at her daughter."
“Everytime you step let the floors shake" 🔥🔥🔥🔥 - Layleen Polanco's sister #BROOKLYNLIBERATION
— Jason Rosenberg (@mynameisjro) June 14, 2020
Though a report on the incident claims the correctional officers may face "administrative action," the Bronx District Attorney's Office concluded that neither could be held criminally responsible for Layleen's death.
#LayleenPolanco was incarcerated when she couldn't afford bail, refused healthcare which led to her death, and then misgendered after she died. Black trans women face violence at every step of the system of policing & incarceration. https://t.co/DTNJSdR4zy
— TransgenderLawCenter (@TransLawCenter) June 14, 2020
Beverly Tillery, Executive Director of The New York City Anti-Violence project, claimed the video highlighted the "neglect and humiliation" many transgender individuals suffer at the hands of law enforcement.
Tillery told Buzzfeed:
"Thousands of transgender people are regularly subjected to neglect and violence and stripped of their humanity within our nation's jails and prisons. These acts of state violence have to stop."
In a world constantly seeking to erase trans folk, yesterday we screamed the names of Layleen Polanco, Dominique “Rem'Mie" Fells, Tony McDade, and the countless other lives lost due to anti-trans violence. We demand justice & will keep your memory forever. #BlackTransLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/ja1wsds6Bo
— BlackWomensBlueprint (@BlackWomensBP) June 15, 2020
Say it out loud!
I BELIEVE IN MY POWER
I BELIEVE IN YOUR POWER
I BELIEVE IN OUR POWER
I BELIEVE IN BLACK TRANS POWER
Historic day in support for #BlackTransLivesMatter at the steps of the Brooklyn Museum and Eastern Parkway. #BrooklynLiberation #LayleenPolanco pic.twitter.com/Qgbwb3MAsm
— Oscar 🐻🥌📷🚀👁🏳️🌈🇺🇸🇲🇽 (@oscmart) June 14, 2020
Department of Corrections commissioner Cynthia Brann also commented on the incident to NBC News, saying:
"The safety and well-being of people in our custody is our top priority, and we are committed to ensuring that all of our facilities are safe and humane. Even one death in our custody is one too many."
please do not use the hashtag #blacklivesmatter because it is clear that Layleen Polanco's life, a black woman, did not matter & does not matter to you. it if did, the correctional officers who waited more than an hour to call for help would be in custody. https://t.co/YXmGUTQDC3
— fav. (@traptay_) June 15, 2020
Layleen Polanco's family continues to seek justice for her death.