The family of Layleen Polanco, the 27-year-old Afro-Latina trans woman who died while in solitary confinement on Rikers Island last year, will receive $5.9 million from the city of New York, according to a report from local outlet The City.
Polanco, also known as Layleen Xtravaganza from the New York ballroom scene’s House of Xtravaganza, suffered a seizure on June 7, 2019, after being held for two months on a misdemeanor charge because she could not afford $500 cash bail. Despite having epilepsy and schizophrenia, she had been in solitary confinement for nine days when she died.
Though NYC officials originally claimed there was “no criminality” connected to Polanco’s death—despite the fact that she was put in solitary with two pre-existing conditions and that staffers neglected to check on her regularly as mandated—in June, the Board of Correction found Rikers Island staffers failed in their duties on those fronts and a number of others. City government officials also said 17 corrections officers would face consequences; now, Polanco’s family is receiving a settlement, the largest the city has ever paid for a death in jail.
“This settlement will allow Layleen’s family to move forward without enduring years of protracted litigation and reliving their trauma,” the family’s attorney, David Shanies, told The City in a statement. “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 more powerful move would be to fire the corrections officers responsible for Polanco’s death, which has not yet happened. “This is just the beginning of justice for my sister, this is not even close to being justice for her,” her sister, Melania Brown, said in a statement. “Justice would be holding those people who had something to do with my sister’s death accountable for their actions.” An even more powerful move would involve reforming the criminal justice system to eliminate the failures that led to Polanco’s death: though New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to halt solitary confinement this year, the state of New York rolled back bail reforms in April after police unions (like this one) and prosecutors lobbied against them.