Newly released results from an autopsy on the body of Layleen Cubilette Polanco, a transgender woman who was found dead in a New York City prison, have revealed that she died of epilepsy-related complications—but her family is still pushing for more information.
As NewNowNext previously reported, Polanco was found dead in her single-person cell at Rikers Island prison in the Bronx on June 7, 2019. Medics reportedly tried to revive the 27-year-old for an hour before declaring her time of death.
I grew up looking to Layleen as my goal. She was one of the most beautiful women I ever seen who was trans. She and so many other girls were an example to me. She was a member of my house, Xtravaganza. She died in her cell in Rikers.
10th trans woman. https://t.co/92UcnUB2Z2
— IAM (@IndyaMoore) June 9, 2019
According to the New York Daily News, an autopsy performed on her body has revealed that died of “sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP).” But Polanco’s loved ones say that prison officials were aware of her preexisting condition—and are still demanding answers from Rikers as to why she was placed in a solitary confinement cell in the first place.
“The autopsy confirms what the family suspected from the beginning, which is that Layleen died as a result of indifference and neglect,” David Shanies, Polanco’s family lawyer, told The City, citing medical records at Rikers. “Clearly, she should never have been alone unmonitored in segregation and the fact that a doctor signed off on this is shocking.”
Today we also received documentary confirmation that Layleen’s epilepsy was well known to DOC, and she suffered multiple seizures on Rikers.
On 5/30, a jail doctor approved her placement in punitive segregation, despite her epilepsy.
That became her death warrant.
— Shanies Law Office (@ShaniesLaw) July 30, 2019
Meanwhile, NYC’s Department of Corrections contests that she was held in solitary confinement, telling NY Daily News that the women’s section of Rikers didn’t actually have a solitary confinement unit when Polanco died. Instead, she was reportedly held in a “restrictive housing unit” with “24/7 access” to medical care if she requested a clinic visit.
“We hope that the OCME’s [Office of the City Medical Examiner] determination helps provide answers that Layleen’s family, friends, and the City deserve,” said Peter Thorne, deputy commissioner of public information for the Department of Correction, told the news outlet. “The broader investigation, which is being led by the Bronx DA and the Department of Investigation, is ongoing, and we are participating fully.”
At the time of her death, Polanco had been held at Rikers on $500 bail for two misdemeanor charges, drug possession and assault, since April 16.
The 27-year-old—who belonged to the House of Xtravaganza ballroom family and was also known as Layleen Xtravaganza—is remembered by family, friends, and fellow members of NYC’s house and ball community.
RALLY: On Monday we will demand justice for Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza who was found dead in her cell at Rose M Singer Center at Rikers last Friday evening. #CloseRikersNow #CloseRosies #Justice4Layleen #LayleenPolanco https://t.co/3lGnY7jSav pic.twitter.com/TNudAzO8Ml
— AVP (@antiviolence) June 9, 2019
On Monday, June 10, activists from the NYC Anti-Violence Project held a rally to remember Polanco and call for justice in the wake of her death.