By now the entire nation is familiar with the death of Gynnya McMillen. The 16 year-old was found unresponsive in a KY juvenile detention center on January 11, 2016. She was transported there after being involved in a domestic disturbance at her mother’s home – the day before – which resulted in a “misdemeanor” assault charge.
To give you a brief background: McMillen became a ward of the state after her father passed away in his sleep in November 2014, according to Dana McDuffie, who is the fiance of McMillen’s brother – Greg Mitchell.
The teen was estranged from her mother for unclear reasons and as a result, was placed in the custody of the Maryhurst residential home for teens in Louisville, KY. Maryhurst’s website states:
Maryhurst provides residential, in-home and community-based treatment programs to children with severe emotional disabilities, most often caused by traumatic experiences of abuse and neglect.
Maryhurst President and CEO, Judy Lambeth, confirmed that on the Friday prior to her death, McMillen was transported by Maryhurst officials to her mother’s home in Shelbyville, KY on a weekend pass.
While visiting her mother, an altercation occurred and police were called – who in turn contacted a juvenile caseworker for the state to receive instructions on where to transport McMillen. It is unclear at this time what other parties were involved in the altercation.
Instead of having officers return McMillen to the Maryhurst facility, the caseworker suggested that the teen be charged with assault and transported 60 miles away to the Lincoln Village Regional Detention Center in Elizabethtown, KY.
“If we would have known that there were problems in the home, we would have gone and picked her up. That’s usually what we try to do because we would want to avoid a detention situation unless it was a big thing that happened. If we would have gotten a call in the night, saying there was something going on with one of our kids then we would have come and picked them up.” – Judy Lambeth
According to McDuffie, this is the first time that McMillen had been in a criminal correctional facility and she says that teen didn’t have any known health conditions. She wishes that authorities would have simply returned her to Maryhurst instead of transporting her to Lincoln Village. Within 24 hours of her arrival – McMillen would be found dead in her cell.
Initially, the facility refused to release any information concerning her death. After ten days a statement was finally released stating that a preliminary autopsy was performed and the cause of death could not be determined at the time. The statement did however say that it is believed that the child died in her sleep and no foul play was expected.
“There were no broken bones or physical signs of trauma on the body at the time of the autopsy.” – Shana Norton of the Hardin County Coroner’s Office.
A few days later another statement was released from the Lincoln Village Regional Detention Center stating than 10 year employee, Reginald Windham, was suspended with pay after failing to perform “cell checks” every 15 minutes, which is standard procedure for detainees that are placed in isolation cells.
A week later a spokesperson from the Lincoln Village Regional Detention Center, Stacy Floden, tells CBS via email that staff members used a martial arts move called an “Aikido restraint” on McMillin the day before she died.
“The staff performed an Aikido restraint hold to safely conduct a pat-down search and remove the youth’s hoodie. The purpose of having multiple staff involved in a controlled restraint is to ensure the safety of the youth and staff. The teen’s ‘repeated’ refusal to cooperate with staff and remove her outer garment prompted the restraint.” – Stacy Floden
DEMONSTRATION OF AIKIDO THE RESTRAINT TECHNIQUE
Floden says that a female officer removed the sweatshirt and conducted the pat down before processing McMillen and placing her in a cell.
“From what it sounds like they [staff] were saying is that she was quiet and pretty much ignoring them. I haven’t heard or read that she was rowdy or physical. It sounds like she was just in non-compliance by ignoring them and refusing to take off her sweatshirt.” -Dana McDuffie.
Attorney and juvenile justice expert, Michele Deitch, who lectures at the University of Texas at Austin, tells CBS 48 Hours Crimesider that she doesn’t approve of using the Aikido technique on a child that refuses to remove their sweatshirt.
“I’ve never heard that phrase used in the context of a corrections setting. As far as I’m concerned that is a completely inappropriate use of a restraint. “This goes back to not being so punitive with kids. That’s just not how you interact if you want to achieve a positive social response.
Situations in which there is not active violence, but a youth simply refuses to comply with an order or is passively resisting do not constitute an immediate necessity of force; policy should clarify this. The continuum of force must offer options for staff–including separation of the youth from peers, verbal de-escalation, or the involvement of mental health staff–that do not involve hands-on measures.” – Michele Deitch
The course of events that take place next is what has infuriated McMillen’s family members most. McMillen was placed in her cell sometime during the evening on January 10, 2016.
Officers were required to check on her every 15 minutes – which didn’t happen. At 6:30 a.m., on Monday January 11, officers came to McMillen’s cell to offer her food – she did not respond. No physical interaction would be made and officers decide to leave the cell door without entering.
At 8:30 a.m., officers would return to her cell door because the teen’s mother was on the phone – still no response. Officers would say they assumed she was sleeping and left the cell door again.
At 9:55 a.m., a sheriff deputy arrives to take McMillen to court for the misdemeanor assault charge from the night before and jail officials finally open her cell. They find the child not breathing and “ICE COLD”.
It would take nine more minutes before the first call was placed to 911 at 10:04 a.m., and at least another minute-and-a-half before CPR would be begin. The nurse on duty at the Lincoln Village Regional Detention Center is heard telling the 911 dispatcher that she is new and does not know what protocols are in place to treat or perform CPR on residents found unresponsive.
TRANSCRIPTS FROM THE 911 CALL BELOW
NURSE – “They want us to start CPR.”
911 DISPATCHER – “Do y’all have a CPR protocol or do y’all need it?”
NURSE – “I’m new, I can find out, I don’t know.”
At 10:07 a.m., the 911 dispatcher confirmed that CPR had begun. The nurse relayed the information that McMillen was “cold to the touch” to the 911 dispatcher. At 10:15 a.m., an EMS supervisor advised dispatch via radio that McMillen was deceased. At 11:33 a.m., McMillen was transported to the county coroner’s office.
McDuffie says that the lack of transparency is extremely stressful on family. She says that they have repeatedly attempted to contact authorities at the Lincoln Village Regional Detention Center, as well as the officers handling the investigation, and have been given very little information concerning McMillen’s death.
She says that often times the family is updated about new information involving the investigation by the media instead of police.
“We’re asking for answers but it’s hard to hear the trickled information.” – Dana McDuffie
The family has hired attorney Ron Hillerich of Louisville to independently investigate Gynnya McMillen’s death. We reached out to Hillerich’s office but have not yet received a response.