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Death of Rikers inmate Layleen Polanco was not criminal, DA says

Layleen Polanco remembered in Yonkers Saturday after Rikers death
Posted at 2:39 PM, Jun 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-05 14:39:05-04

RIKERS ISLAND — An investigation into the death of Rikers Island inmate Layleen Polanco found there was no criminality in her death, city officials said Friday.

The report was issued by Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, who said no criminal charges will be sought in Polanco's death in Rikers custody.

"A 27-year-old woman died in custody in a city jail, and the circumstances of her death warranted a full and thorough investigation," Clark said. "Layleen Polanco died from an epileptic seizure. Her family and friends along with the public deserved to know whether anything else played a role in her death. It is an absolute tragedy that Ms. Polanco died so young."

Polanco, 27, was found dead in her cell on June 7, 2019.

She was arrested on April 13, and remained in jail because she could not afford to pay $500 bail, according to her family.

At the time of her death, civil rights groups said Polanco’s is an example of how the justice system can trap people of color, leading to devastating outcomes.

Polanco was placed in the jail's restrictive housing unit days before her death, cleared by a Rikers doctor who was aware Polanco suffered from a seizure condition, according to documents.

In 2019, a family lawyer said he believed she should never have been placed in the RHU.

The DA said that was not a factor in the investigation.

“The purview of this Office is not to determine whether it was a wrong decision to place Ms. Polanco into Punitive Segregation while she was suffering from a documented seizure disorder; the purview of this Office is to determine whether that decision rose to the level of criminal behavior," he said.

“After an in-depth investigation by my Public Integrity Bureau, we have concluded that we would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any individual committed any crime associated with Ms. Polanco’s demise. We will not be seeking any criminal charges related to this devastating event."

The Ciy Department of Investigation said actions by Rikers staff did not contribute to Polanco's death, but did find that staff did not check on Polanco according to policy.

There was a 47-minute gap between tours of Polanco's housing area, a violation of rules that say inmates should be checked every 15 minutes at irregular intervals while in punitive segregation, the DOI said.

Polanco's cause of death was sudden unexplained death in epilepsy, according to the chief medical examiner.