Video shows teen's last movements in juvenile detention center
Employees went into Gynnya McMillen's room three times but did not try to to interact with her even though she never responded
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Video surveillance of a 16-year-old girl who died in a Kentucky juvenile-detention center shows her last movements came shortly before midnight on Jan. 10, about ten hours before she was found unresponsive, according to a Hardin County coroner.
The coroner, Dr. William Lee, said video shows Gynnya McMillen changed positions in her bed about 12 a.m. and then did not move again. He estimated she had been dead about three hours when a sheriff's deputy arrived at the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center to bring her to court about 10 a.m. on Jan. 11.
If Lee’s account is accurate, an employee at the detention center offered Gynnya breakfast about the time she died, 6:30 a.m.
Gynnya didn’t respond to the offer and the employee did not try to wake the teen, according to Stacy Floden, a spokeswoman for the Department of Juvenile Justice.
And the teen again did not respond when asked if she wanted to accept a phone call at 8:17 a.m. At 8:53, Gynnya was offered a snack but again did not respond, Floden said.
Employees entered her room all three times, yet left without interacting with the teen.
Juvenile justice experts say the lack of communication should have prompted employees to check on the teen.
Michele Deitch, an attorney and juvenile justice expert who lectures at the University of Texas at Austin, said that at the very least, employees should have checked to see if Gynnya was breathing after she didn’t respond multiple times.
“If they said something and she didn’t respond, that should trigger something,” Deitch said in a phone interview. “I’d like more information. What does ‘nonresponsive’ mean? Seem like a lot of red flags about her behavior, and they were not engaging with her appropriately."
Floden said Gynnya repeatedly failed to respond to employees from the time she showed up at Lincoln at 2 a.m. on Jan. 10.
“She wouldn’t say anything,” Floden said, adding that employees assumed Gynnya was sleeping or again ignoring them when she didn’t respond to offers for food and to take a phone call.
Because the video doesn’t have audio, it is unclear what employees said to Gynnya, but Floden said they would typically announce that breakfast had arrived and leave if there was no response – as long as it didn’t appear the teen was in distress.
Asked if employees should have checked on Gynnya when she repeatedly didn’t respond, Floden said “That’s still really what we are trying to figure out and look at. We want answers as well. It’s a waiting game right now.”
But Floden said Gynnya’s “silence was consistent with her behavior and lack of communication with staff since her arrival.”
For example, Gynnya had a sweatshirt on when she arrived and ignored an order to remove it, Floden said.
"She wouldn't say anything," Floden said.
Floden told the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting that the teen was physically restrained by staff because she refused to remove her hooded sweatshirt as part of the booking process.
“The youth’s repeated refusal to cooperate with staff and remove her outer garment prompted the restraint,” Floden told reporter Ralph Dunlop. Once Gynnya was immobilized in a martial-arts restraint “by multiple staff... to ensure the safety of the youth and staff,” the sweatshirt was removed and the search performed, Floden said. Floden said the incident was under review.
So far, an internal review has found that an employee, Reginald Windham, failed to check in on Gynnya at required 15-minute intervals, Floden told WDRB. Windham, who has been with the state's juvenile justice department for 10 years, has been placed on paid administrative leave.
Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Youth First! Initiative, an advocacy for incarcerated youth, said if employees were required to check on Gynnya every 15 minutes and she was consistently not responsive, it would be “total common sense” to go into Gynnya’s room.
“I don’t understand how they could think otherwise,” Ryan said.
Floden, however, said that “staff is not to enter the room until wake up time unless the youth shows signs of distress” or to deliver medicine or personal hygiene items.
“Youths are required by the American Correctional Association Guidelines to have eight hours of uninterrupted sleep,” Floden said. “We make every effort to ensure that the youth is sleeping and in no apparent medical distress, the head isn’t covered, and nothing is covering the neck or face. That’s why we require that the head and neck be exposed. Even during hours when youth are awake, staff do not generally enter youth rooms unless necessary to avoid the risk of assault.”
The normal wake-up time for youth at Lincoln Village is 5:45 a.m. But Gynnya was not woken up because she was taken into custody so early and had a court appearance later in the morning, Floden said
Gynnya was in a private room at the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center and under video surveillance the entire 24 hours she was in custody after she was arrested on a domestic violence charge.
The video of Gynnya’s room was “under continuous monitoring by staff in the control room” and employees looked in her room “at various intervals” throughout the night and morning “to see that she was sleeping and in no apparent distress,” Floden said.
Floden said the juvenile justice department is still reviewing the video. WDRB has requested a copy of the video under the state’s open records law.
Floden said the 15-minute bed checks are standard operating procedure, and require only that an employee do a visual check through a small window of a metal door.
“They peek in … and would not open the door or go in for any reason unless there was distress,” Floden said.
A Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy arrived at about 9:55 a.m. to take Gynnya to her court appearance. Employees were unable to wake the teen and medical staff was notified, Floden said.
Lee said an autopsy ruled out foul play, as there were no obvious signs of trauma or a drug overdose. A toxicology report will take about six weeks.
“Right now, we don’t know why she died,” Lee, the Hardin County coroner, said. “It’s puzzling. You don’t see many healthy 16-year-olds die without a good cause.”
Kelly Cable, spokesman for the Shelbyville Police Department, said Gynnya was arrested about 2 a.m. on Jan. 10 on a domestic violence related offense at her home and charged with 4th degree assault.
Gynnya’s uncle, Ronald Caldwell, told WDRB his niece was “always pretty healthy and active.”
Lee said the autopsy showed no obvious congenital heart problems.
Caldwell says his niece had issues at school and with her mother and had been in group homes since she was 14, but that she was like many teens.
"She was real active, you know, real energetic, smart as a whip she really was. Very intelligent girl, but she had a little wildness in her like all teens," said Caldwell.
On Jan. 10 during a weekend visit home, Caldwell says the teen got into an argument with her mom, who called police.
"We're still very hurt and upset and confused about it,” said Caldwell, “because you have no closure although she's buried now you want to know what happened to her, what caused all of this, so we're still torn apart about this."
Update: McMillen was reportedly physically restrained the day before she died in her cell.
The Department of Juvenile Justice sent the following statement regarding McMillen's restraint:
There was an Aikido restraint performed on a youth at the Lincoln Village Reginal Juvenile Detention Center on January 10, 2016. The youth was instructed to remove the youth’s outer garment hoodie which was covering the youth’s head and neck area in order to be searched and photographed as part of the booking process. The youth repeatedly refused and was non-compliant with the staff request. 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. A female staff conducted the pat-down search and removed the youth’s hoodie that was covering her head and neck area. The youth’s repeated refusal to cooperate with staff and remove her outer garment prompted the restraint.
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