Louisville attorneys preparing civil suit, say Gynnya McMillen's 'death could have been prevented'
"We have assembled information, employed experts and are anticipating litigation," said attorney Ron Hillerich.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville attorneys representing the family of 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen said they are "anticipating" filing a lawsuit against the state over the teen's Jan. 11 death at the Lincoln Village Youth Center.
On Aug. 9, Louisville attorney James Bolus requested the Hardin District Court Clerk's office provide copies of the criminal files of two former employees of the state juvenile-detention center who are accused of lying about performing more than two dozen bed checks on Gynnya during the time she died, according to court records.
"We have assembled information, employed experts and are anticipating litigation," said attorney Ron Hillerich, who is also representing the family. "It's our position and feeling that her death could have been prevented."
Much of the evidence in the criminal case has been sealed from the public.
A February probate case in Jefferson District Court allowed Gynnya's mother, Michelle McMillen, to become executive of the teen's estate.
Hillerich said attorneys have communicated through correspondence with state officials about possibly "resolving the matter without litigation" but have been unsuccessful.
The Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice issued a statement Thursday afternoon:
"While we remain saddened and deeply sympathetic to the family, three independent investigations have confirmed that this tragedy was the result of natural causes. Medical examiners were clear that this child passed away in her sleep, without any signs of distress that would have prompted medical attention."
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.
Upon arriving at the center, officials have said the teen was physically restrained by staff because she refused to remove her hooded sweatshirt as part of the booking process.
Gynnya was found unresponsive in her cell when a sheriff's deputy arrived at the center to bring her to court about 10 a.m. on Jan. 11.
An autopsy determined that she died in her sleep from a rare heart condition known as sudden cardiac arrhythmia.
Hillerich did not want to comment about why he believed Gynnya's death could have been prevented, saying he would discuss specifics if and when a lawsuit is filed. Civil lawsuits must be filed within a year of the incident.
Former supervisors Reginald Windham and Victor Holt "knowingly recorded false information" on room observation sheets 15 and 17 times, respectively, on the night of Jan. 10 and the next morning, according to documents filed in their criminal cases on July 28.
Windham and Holt were on different shifts at the center, both responsible for checking on Gynnya every 15 minutes during the roughly 24 hours she was in custody.
Both men were fired and charged with official misconduct stemming from what authorities say was their failure to perform regular bed checks and falsifying logs.
Assistant Hardin County Attorney Phillip Moore wrote in court records that while there were other employees at the jail facility at the time, it is not known if any witnessed Windham and Holt failing to check on Gynnya or falsifying the records.
Another employee, Christopher Johnson, was fired on April 15 for failing to perform bed checks and falsifying logs. He has not been charged.
Video surveillance of the teen that shows her last movements and any interaction with guards was not put into court records and is available only for defense attorney J. Clark Baird to review at the Hardin County Attorney's office, according to the records.
The coroner, Dr. William Lee, said the video shows Gynnya changed positions in her bed about 12 a.m. and then did not move again.
A state investigation found that six employees failed to do regular bed checks and falsified departmental logs.
Baird said in previous court records that Windham and Holt, "followed the protocol that was given to them by their immediate supervisor. The same protocol that was used not only by the defendants, but also every other youth worker, youth worker supervisor, teachers, and even the administrators."
Employees were supposed to check in on Gynnya at required 15-minute intervals, but Baird said the lack of staffing and other duties made that impossible.
It was only after Gynnya's death that the bed-check practice "comes under examination," Baird said.
Windham and Holt could face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $250. The next court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 2.
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