17 Rikers Island correction officers disciplined after detainee's death

Layleen Polanco died from complications of epilepsy while in a solitary cell.

Over a dozen Rikers Island correction officers were disciplined on Friday after an investigation into the death of a transgender detainee revealed that she was left unattended in solitary confinement for almost an hour.

Earlier this month, the Bronx County District Attorney's Office found after a six-month investigation into the death of Layleen Polcano, no criminal charges were ever filed. The prosecutors forwarded their findings to the city's Department of Investigation, which recommended to the Department of Correction to take internal disciplinary action.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann announced that 17 uniform jail staffers will be disciplined for their conduct. Of those disciplined are three officers and a captain who will be suspended without pay, effective immediately.

"We are committed to ensuring that all of our facilities are safe and humane. Even one death in our custody is one too many and this swift and fair determination on internal discipline makes clear that the safety and well-being of people in our custody remains our top priority," said Brann in a statement.

Polanco, 27, was held on Rikers Island on $500 bail since April 2019 for alleged possession of a controlled substance and assault of a cab driver, court records show. At some point, she was placed in solitary confinement.

During the investigation, officials found a 47-minute gap between tours of Polanco's housing area. Inmates in solitary confinement are required to be checked on at least once every 15 minutes at irregular intervals, officials said.

Polanco was found dead in her cell on June 7, 2019. An autopsy report from August found that the manner of death was natural and that the cause of death was from complications of an epileptic seizure.

"The death of Layleen Polanco was an incredibly painful moment for our city," said de Blasio. "What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable, and it is critical that there is accountability."

The Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen called the disciplinary actions against the jail staffers "an egregious abuse of power that is unprecedented."

"Our members are being thrown under the bus when even the Bronx District Attorney found they did nothing wrong ... We will vigorously fight these suspensions and refuse to allow this city to demonize Correction Officers. This is a disgrace!" said Husamudeen in a statement.