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Laverne Cox is applauding the Supreme Court’s decision that gay and transgender workers are protected by law., but she says more work needs to be done. (June 17)

AP Domestic

Seventeen officers with the Department of Correction will be disciplined following a transgender woman’s death at Rikers Island, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Layleen Polanco, 27, died last year after experiencing an epileptic seizure in solitary confinement.

In a statement, de Blasio said Friday that four officers, including one captain, faced immediate suspension without pay. The disciplinary action facing the other 13 uniformed staff was not stipulated.

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

Polanco’s family says new surveillance footage released in recent weeks shows that guards failed to provide her with potentially lifesaving medical care, according to NBC News. Earlier this month, the New York City Department of Investigation and the Bronx district attorney released findings saying they found no evidence to support criminal charges in her death.

Crowds carry signs during a march in support of Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives in Boystown on June 14, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Natasha Moustache, Getty Images)

The disciplinary measures comes after the release of a Board of Corrections investigative report Tuesday that cited multiple failures that compromised her safety and contributed to her death. The board found that staff failed to conduct rounds every 15 minutes and check on Polanco as stipulated in Department of Correction’s policy, leaving her unchecked for periods of 40 minutes or more, and in one case, nearly an hour.

The board also found failures to maintain accurate and complete logbooks and record-sharing failures.

Polanco had been charged with six misdemeanors in April 2019 and was being held on $501 bail until her death on June 7. She spent three days at Bellevue Hospital, where she was prescribed an anti-seizure medication, prior to being taken to Rikers Island. She had two seizures after arriving at the jail before she was sentenced to 20 days in solitary confinement for fighting with other inmates.

Protesting deaths: Two Black transgender women were killed last week, thousands showed up to protest

In its report, the board also found the process for identifying people who should be excluded from isolation because of mental or medical issues to be insufficient.

David Shanies, an attorney for Polanco’s family, said that while the discipline was welcome, what’s really needed is institutional accountability.

“Suspending or even firing individual employees will not save the next Layleen from dying,” he said in a statement. “We need to treat trans women as women. We need to end abusive solitary confinement. We need to treat people in jail as humans deserving safety and dignity.”

Polanco’s death was one of several that sparked outrage and protests in recent weeks.

On June 14, thousands stood outside the Brooklyn Museum in New York, largely wearing white and spreading the message Black Trans Lives Matter. The Brooklyn protest, organized by the Okra Project and Marsha P Johnson Institute, also honored the deaths of Riah Milton, 25, and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, 27. Their deaths were the latest in what advocacy groups have called an epidemic facing transgender people, especially Black trans women.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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