rikers island

Woman Who Died at Rikers Island Was in Solitary

Layleen Polanco in an undated photo.
Layleen Polanco in an undated photo Photo: Facebook

The 27-year-old transgender woman who died on Rikers Island Friday was in solitary confinement at the time of her death, sources told THE CITY.

Layleen Polanco, a figure in the city’s ballroom scene, was pronounced dead in a Rikers cell at 3:45 p.m. on Friday, about an hour after a jail officer noticed her there unconscious, according to the Department of Correction.

The cause of death has not yet been determined, a spokesperson for the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office said.

The restrictive housing unit where Polanco died stays in lockdown for 17 hours out of the day. During the other seven hours, detainees can attend activities, such as programming and group therapy, the DOC said.

Polanco was in the Rose M. Singer center, the women’s jail on Rikers Island, in a specialized unit for transgender women, according to a Correction Department spokesperson.

She was being held on $500 bail for prostitution and lowest-level drug possession charges stemming from a 2017 arrest, records show.

Jail officials put Polanco in solitary as punishment for her part in a fight, sources said.

An undercover cop arrested Polanco in August 2017 for allegedly agreeing to engage in oral sex for money and having what police called a crack pipe in her pocket, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Layleen Polanco’s sister Melania Brown, left, hugs Tabytha Gonzalez at a rally in Foley Square. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

After Polanco’s 2017 arrest, her case was sent to Manhattan’s Human Trafficking court. Because she missed dates to appear there, there was a warrant open for her arrest.

In April, Polanco was arrested for allegedly biting a cabbie. A judge set bail at $500. A few days later, she was ordered released in the assault case. But the $500 bail on the drug and prostitution charges still stood.

‘So Full of Life’

Polanco was a member of the House of Xtravaganza, a preeminent dynasty of the city’s ballroom scene.

Fellow house member Jimmy Xtravaganza spoke to THE CITY about Polanco after a demonstration for her in Manhattan’s Foley Square on Monday night.

He remembered his five-foot-three, Dominican-born friend as “so spunky, so full of life.”

Hope Giselle, from the House of Xtravaganza, speaks during a rally Monday in Foley Square.
Hope Giselle, from the House of Xtravaganza, speaks during a rally Monday in Foley Square. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“And positive, always, never, ever, ever drama,” he said. “She was a hell of a time. A beautiful person, never really in conflicts.”

Melania Brown, Polanco’s sister, spoke to the crowd at Foley Square through tears. “They treated my sister like she was nothing for how she decided to be happy,” she said.

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