Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, a 27 year-old Afro-Latinx trans lady who had epilepsy and schizophrenia, died in June at New York’s Rikers Island after being positioned in punitive segregation. An post-mortem discovered that she died of an epileptic seizure.
Her household introduced a civil swimsuit in opposition to New York Metropolis and several other officers on Monday, claiming that workers didn’t present correct lodging for her disabilities, medical care, or protected housing. The grievance states that the defendants “have been intentionally detached to a identified and substantial danger of significant harm to her.”
Cubilette-Polanco was taken to Rikers after being arrested in April on misdemeanor assault costs and was held on $500 bond. A decide ordered her launch on the assault costs, however she continued to be detained for low-level drug costs and prostitution costs from two years earlier.
Cubilette-Polanco was positioned in a unit for trans girls, the place she was concerned in a combat after which relocated to punitive segregation. Her isolation was presupposed to final 20 days.
The grievance says that metropolis and corrections staffers violated her Fourteenth Modification rights of due course of and equal safety beneath the regulation. It additionally accuses them of violating Part II of the People with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The swimsuit alleges staffers knew about her epilepsy and schizophrenia and positioned her in segregation anyway, in violation of Division of Corrections laws that forbid segregation for inmates with severe medical or psychiatric situations.
Her legal professionals contend of their grievance that folks with epilepsy require 24-hour monitoring as a result of danger of suffocation and different hazards from seizures. Cubilette-Polanco suffered severe accidents to her head and face throughout an episode that occurred at or across the time she was positioned in segregation. She didn’t obtain medical take care of the harm or precautionary screening for the impacts of head trauma, based on the swimsuit.
Though the swimsuit states that officers discovered her unresponsive at 1 p.m., they took no motion and at three p.m., after they went to her cell once more and located her situation unchanged. After they entered they cell, they found that she was useless. “She had been useless so lengthy that first responders discovered her physique chilly to the contact.,” the grievance states.
Andrea J. Ritchie, a lawyer and writer of Invisible No Extra: Police Violence Towards Black Girls and Girls of Shade, stated that the therapy Cubilette-Polanco was subjected to is all too widespread.
“Trans girls and notably trans girls of shade spend a whole lot of time, whether or not they’re incarcerated in jails or in prisons, in some type of segregation,” she stated. “It places them at elevated danger of violence, elevated danger of medical issues, or in Layleen’s case, dying. It places them at elevated danger of psychological well being want as a result of the situations themselves are detrimental to at least one’s psychological well being.”
Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology at Brooklyn Faculty and writer of the 2017 guide The Finish of Policing, instructed ThinkProgress that Cubilette-Polanco’s dying was a part of a wider drawback throughout the legal justice system. While you perceive that cities typically use the legal justice system to handle individuals experiencing monetary precarity and poverty, it’s simpler to know how Cubilette-Polanco wound up in Rikers within the first place.
“New York Metropolis has produced this large inhabitants of oldsters who’re dwelling in very precarious circumstances,” Vitale defined. “Whether or not they’re concerned in low-level drug dealing, low-level thievery, intercourse work, dwelling outside, experiencing psychological well being crises, drug habit — town’s main response to all these populations has been to place them within the legal justice system and to cycle them by means of specialised courts and Rikers Island and fixed police engagement.”
Vitale stated that if town labored to decriminalize intercourse work, develop accessibility to medical care, together with epilepsy care and psychological well being care, and supplied prime quality neighborhood-based well being companies, it’s attainable Cubilette-Polanco wouldn’t have had contact with the legal justice system.
He added that typically it’s the most weak prisoners who find yourself in segregation. “We all know that punitive segregation and numerous types of solitary confinement are all the time disproportionately populated with of us with psychological well being issues as a result of they’re not able to offering care in a humane means in that setting,” Vitale stated.
“So these of us turn out to be labeled as an issue to be managed by means of punitive segregation. We don’t know the main points of what led to the combat that resulted in placing her there however it is a widespread sample that probably the most weak prisoners find yourself in punitive segregation.”
In June, shortly after Cubilette-Polanco’s dying, greater than 600 individuals gathered in Foley Sq. in New York Metropolis to mourn her. The occasion was hosted by the New York Metropolis Anti-Violence Mission and co-sponsored by over 30 organizations, together with the New York Transgender Advocacy Group, Translatina Community, International Motion Mission, Lambda Authorized, and the Sylvia Rivera Regulation Mission.
Cubilette-Polanco’s mom, Arecelis Polanco, her sister, Melania Brown, and her brother, Salomon Cubilette, went to the rally and wore LGBTQ Pleasure rainbows. Later that month, Cubilette-Polanco’s household and activists gathered at Metropolis Corridor to demand accountability for her dying.
Presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) shared Cubilette-Polanco’s story in July and known as for reforms to the legal justice system. Warren tweeted, “Let’s be clear: Layleen Cubilette-Polanco ought to nonetheless be alive. Solitary confinement is merciless and inhumane. We should finish this apply, implement strict requirements for medical care, and supply further layers of safety for LGBTQ+ individuals.”
Andrea Ritchie stated efforts reminiscent of No New Jails, which was fashioned in 2018 and had a lot of its members come from The Marketing campaign to Shutdown Rikers, is by far the higher answer.
“We’d like one other strategy, and that’s not constructing smaller jails within the boroughs and it’s not constructing jails particularly for trans girls. It’s not constructing jail for individuals with unmet psychological well being wants, as a result of nobody is getting good psychological well being care in a cage,” Ritchie stated.
“Her life is so vital and so beneficial on her personal and to her household and the individuals who cherished and cared about her,” she added, talking of Cubilette-Polanco’s dying. “However it’s additionally vital as a clarion name to all of us to actually heed the demand that this not be our strategy to poverty, that this not be our strategy to unmet psychological well being wants, and unmet well being care wants,” Ritchie stated.
“This will’t be our response to a structural answer for trans girls of shade,” she stated. “It might probably’t be our response to each type of want, or hurt, or battle, and it’s actually costing individuals’s lives.”