Lawsuit claims staffer watched as 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen died in custody
A former guard, Reginald Windham heard the teen the coughing and saw her seize and could have "in all likelihood saved the girl’s life" if he had taken action, according to the suit.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In the minutes before she died at Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center a little before midnight on Jan. 10, Gynnya McMillen coughed a few times and seized in an "uncontrolled manner," while a guard watched, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Lincoln employees Wednesday.
An expert witness for Gynnya's family believes the coughing was McMillen gasping and losing consciousness and that a former guard, Reginald Windham, who heard the coughing and saw the seizure, could have "in all likelihood saved the girl’s life" if he had taken action, according to the suit.
Windham, according to the suit, said he checked on Gynnya "to make sure she had not thrown up and was choking or something like that." He looked through her cell door at 11:39 p.m. for 18 seconds, watching "her last gasps and dying breaths and final uncontrollable movements and seizure," the suit claims.
Windham, who is facing misdemeanor charges for allegedly lying about performing multiple bed checks on Gynnya, "did not lift a finger to help her, instead returning to his desk," according to the suit.
According to the suit, Windham admitted that "he sees so many things that could have been done that could have prevented this from happening,” including doing bed checks and going into the cell to do a wellness check.
In addition, the lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Kentucky, claims video shows staff members physically restrained Gynnya after taking her to an isolation cell and "forcibly places her on her knees on the metal bed frame with her hands placed on the wall."
So far, officials have only said they used an Aikido control technique to restrain Gynnya after she refused to remove her hoodie when she was first brought to Lincoln. In that incident, the lawsuit claims four employees "forcibly pinned, held and contorted Gynnya's body" behind a counter, obstructing the view of a nearby camera.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections was checking to see if the state would comment on the suit.
The lawsuit also claims officials removed Gynnya's mattress from her room "for no apparent reason" and did not provide her a blanket, according to video. The video has not been filed in court records yet.
Windham and another former employee of the state juvenile-detention center, Victor Holt, are accused of lying about performing more than two dozen bed checks on Gynnya during the time she died, according to court records. An attorney for the men has said they were following protocol at the center.
A state investigation found that six employees failed to do regular bed checks and falsified departmental logs.
The lawsuit, which names several employees as plaintiffs, says guards lied about making a total of 64 bed checks on Gynnya.
Much of the evidence in the criminal case has been sealed from the public.
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.
The suit claims no one from Lincoln Village "took required steps" to ensure Gynnya "was breathing and alive."
Around 6:30 a.m., an employee pounded on Gynnya's cell door holding a tray of food. When she did not respond, the worker "callously ate her breakfast" and later lied about making a bed check, the suit claims.
The employee wrote that Gynnya "declined breakfast -- refused to acknowledge staff," the suit says.
At about 9:30 a.m., the suit claims Holt entered the teen's cell and picked up a water bottle sitting on the bed, using it to push Gynnya's body. Holt then attempted to shake Gynnya's body.
After receiving no response, Holt left the cell with the water, later noting that he performed a bed check and reporting that "resident was told to get up and change out for court and ignored staff."
An autopsy determined that she died in her sleep from a rare heart condition known as sudden cardiac arrhythmia.
Windham and Holt are criminally accused of "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.
Another employee, Christopher Johnson, was fired on April 15 for failing to perform bed checks and falsifying logs. He has not been charged.
Johnson, who is also named in the suit, allegedly came into Gynnya's room at about 10 a.m. and kicked her bed frame, tapped her feet and shook her shoulder. Holt also came in and shook Gynnya and found her body was "stiff and rigid" before exiting the cell.
A few minutes later, a nurse came in to assess the teen. CPR was not started for several minutes and the nurse allegedly said "she did not know if they had any CPR protocol at Lincoln Village," according to the suit.
An attorney for Holt and Windham, J. Clark Baird, has 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.
In response to the lawsuit, the Department of Juvenile Justice released the following statement:
We respect the family’s right to bring this action and remain deeply saddened by their loss. We have also fully complied with three independent investigations, all of which confirmed that this tragedy was the result of natural causes. After reviewing all the evidence, medical examiners were clear that this child passed away in her sleep, without any signs of distress that would have prompted medical attention.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.
Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.