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17 Rikers Island officers face discipline in transgender woman's death

Seventeen corrections officers in New York City will face disciplinary action in connection with the death of a 27-year-old transgender woman who died at Rikers Island in 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday. Three officers and one captain will be suspended without pay.

Layleen Polanco, 27, died of an epileptic seizure while in solitary confinement on June 7 of last year. Polanco was awaiting trial and unable to pay her $500 bail, according to her lawyers.

The mayor, in a statement, called Polanco's death an "incredibly painful moment" for the city. "What happened to Layleen was absolutely unacceptable and it is critical that there is accountability."

The decision comes after Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark concluded a six-month investigation into Polanco's death and declined to bring charges against the officers.

Layleen Polanco
Layleen Polanco Facebook

Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, on Friday called the disciplinary action an "egregious abuse of power that is unprecedented."

"We will vigorously fight these suspensions and refuse to allow this city to demonize Correction Officers," Husamudeen said in a statement.

The city's Department of Investigation released a report earlier this month detailing a 47-minute gap where officers failed to check on Polanco in her cell, violating a Department of Correction policy that requires staff to check on inmates who are in solitary confinement every 15 minutes. That investigation, however, found no evidence that the officers' actions contributed to Polanco's death.

"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," Cynthia Brann, the city's corrections commissioner, said in a statement.

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