Sixteen-year-old Gynnya McMillen was found dead in a Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center cell, in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Several staff used martial arts to restrain the teen one day prior in response to her refusal to remove a hoodie before being searched and photographed. After the incident, the girl was placed in a jail cell by herself. The girl was taken to the center in response to a misdemeanor domestic violence allegation.
McMillen was scheduled for court on the morning of January 11, and when a sheriff’s deputy came to pick her up, staff said she was “cold” and not breathing. The time was 9:55 a.m. Staff called 911 nine minutes later, and nearly two additional minutes elapsed before CPR was started. A nurse at the center who said she was new to her job didn’t understand the CPR protocol, but it appears that the teen was already dead.
She was pronounced dead a short time later. By 11:33 a.m., her body was on the way to the morgue. It was about a 28-hour period of time from Gynnya’s arrival at Lincoln Village until she was found dead “in a sleeping position” on the following morning. Rules at Lincoln Village mandate that checks should be made every 15 minutes.
Criminal charges are not being considered in the case. But a detention center employee, Reginald Windham, was placed on paid leave. Facility officials state he failed to check on Gynnya every 15 minutes, a requirement for those in isolation. She was offered food, and her mother also called. At 6:30 a.m., 8:17, and 8:53 a.m., staff tried to wake her with verbal commands, but there was no response, per the New York Daily News. Nearly 3 and a half hours elapsed between the time she was first offered a meal and when the deputy arrived to transport her to court.
Initially, the center reported that the girl had died in her sleep. Later, staff added that when the girl refused to remove her sweatshirt for booking, multiple guards performed an “Aikido restraint.” Aikido is a Japanese martial art that allows for defense against an attacker. It is unclear how the teen was restrained. Stacey Floden, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, wrote about the incident, noted the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
“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.” When Floden was asked whether Gynnya complained about injuries or exhibited distress, she said the incident was still under review.
University of Texas at Austin juvenile justice expert Michele Deitch said, “As far as I’m concerned that is a completely inappropriate use of a restraint, according to CBS News. There are guidelines for dealing with youth who are non-compliant but not not posing a threat to anyone. Deitch wrote a chapter in the National Institute of Corrections’ guide for “crisis management” of youth in detention centers.
“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.”
John Tilley, Secretary of the Kentucky Justice Cabinet requested that investigations and McMillen’s autopsy be expedited. Meanwhile, her sister, LaChe Simms, said she is still trying to process and make sense of her sister’s death.
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