Mother Of Trans Woman Who Died At Rikers Files Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit

August 13, 2019  |  

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The family of Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old woman who died in pre-trials detention while being held at Rikers Jail, is fighting back in a major way, filing a federal civil rights lawsuit on Monday against the city of New York, according to Newsweek.

Aracelis Polanco, Layleen’s mother, filed a suit accusing the city, jailhouse staff and medical personnel of violating Layleen’s civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The suit also claims the respondents violated the Americans with Disabilities Act over their alleged failure to accommodate Layleen’s medical needs. The Polanco’s are suing for unspecified damages.

“Layleen suffered a seizure while in her cell and died as a direct and proximate result of the City’s, its agents’ and its employees’ refusal to provide Layleen with a reasonable accommodation for her disability,” the suit, obtained by the New York Daily News, reads.

Last week, the city’s medical examiner determined Polanco died from complications with epilepsy.

Polanco’s family contends that as an epileptic and schizophrenic, she was placed in restrictive housing with limited medical supervision. Polanco was placed in restrictive housing, which other Rikers inmates have described akin to solitary confinement, after she was involved in a physical altercation with another inmate.

Polanco was found unresponsive on June 7 in her cell at the Rose M. Singer Center,  after she was awaiting trial over a April 26 arrest where she was charged with two misdemeanor offenses, drug possession and assault. Polanco waited in jail until trial due to the fact that she could not afford her $500 bond. Many activists pointed to Polanco’s death as another damning revelation over the jail’s storied history of negligence and corruption.

“Had she been reasonably accommodated, she would have been detained in a readily observable cell, and would be alive,” the suit continues. Polanco’s family contends she suffered a head injury before she was placed in restrictive housing and should have received around the clock care, coupled with her medical history.

In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio released a plan that would in effect shutter the prison over a 10-year period. The jail still faces major challenges, as a 2018 report from the State Commission of Correction listed Rikers as among the state’s five most troubled facilities, according to Newsweek.

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