By Noah Manskar
June 10, 2019
New York City officials are investigating the Friday death of a transgender woman in a Rikers Island jail. Layleen Polanco, 27, was pronounced dead at 3:45 p.m. Friday, about an hour after a correction officer found her unresponsive in her cell in the Rose M. Singer Center, the Department of Correction said.
Department staff tried to revive Polanco before medics arrived at the scene about 10 minutes after Polanco was found, the DOC said. The city's chief medical examiner will determine what caused her death, but the DOC said it was not the result of violence and that foul play is not suspected.
"This is a tragic loss and we extend our deepest condolences to her family," DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann said in a statement. "We are conducting a full investigation as the safety and well-being of people in our custody is our top priority."
Polanco had been jailed since April 16 as she faced charges of assault and criminal possession of a controlled substance in Manhattan Criminal Court, DOC records show. Her next court date was set for June 18.
Polanco was reportedly a member of the House of Xtravaganza, a well known community in the city's LGBT ballroom scene. Its members have been featured in the ballroom documentary "Paris is Burning" and the television series "Pose."
"I grew up looking to Layleen as my goal," Indya Moore, an Xtravaganza member and "Pose" star, wrote on Twitter. "She was one of the most beautiful women I ever seen who was trans. She and so many other girls were an example to me."
The Legal Aid Society, which represented Polanco, joined calls for a full probe into her death. Activists are slated to rally in her honor Monday evening, and a GoFundMe page has been set up to help cover her family's expenses.
"Ms. Polanco's passing is a tragic reminder of the heightened risk and physical and emotional torture that transgender people — especially those from communities of color — face in the criminal legal system, particularly while in custody," Legal Aid said in a statement Monday. "Her heartbreaking and untimely death warrants a swift, complete, independent, and transparent investigation from the City."