Family of 16-year-old who died in state custody asking for $27 m - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Family of 16-year-old who died in state custody asking for $27 million in damages

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Gynnya McMillen Gynnya McMillen

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The family of a 16-year-old girl who died last year in a Kentucky-run youth detention center will seek nearly $27 million in damages from current and past state employees as part of a lawsuit over her death.

Attorneys for the family of Gynnya McMillen filed notice in the federal lawsuit Tuesday identifying at least 20 potential witnesses and the amount of money they are asking for, including more than $22 million in punitive damages.

The damages also include nearly $1.5 million in potential career earnings had McMillen lived, $2 million for pain and suffering and $1 million for her family's loss. The amount does not include attorneys' fees.

An attorney for McMillen declined to comment. 

A judge dismissed the state of Kentucky from the suit in October. The suit still names 13 current and past state workers as defendants, now sued as individuals and not within their official capacities, according to the judge's order.

Also, attorneys for the family said open records responses from police departments, the state Department of Juvenile Justice and BuzzFeed News will be used as evidence during the trial. A trial date has not yet been scheduled. 

In addition, the new court records indicate two former guards charged with misdemeanors involving the teen's death at the Lincoln Village Youth Center in Hardin County are expected to resolve their cases next month.

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.

Both men are charged with official misconduct in Hardin County. Documents filed in the civil suit say Windham and Holt will be in court on May 12 and "it is anticipated that the misdemeanor charges will be resolved soon thereafter."

An attorney for Holt and Windham, who have pleaded not guilty, did not immediately return a phone message. 

The lawsuit accuses Lincoln Village employees of using “martial arts restraint techniques” on McMillen prior to putting her into an isolation cell, “unmonitored and without medical care, for hours leading to her death from a cardiac event,” according to the new documents.

In the minutes before she died, McMillen coughed a few times and seized in an "uncontrolled manner," while a guard watched, according to the federal lawsuit filed last year.

An expert witness for Gynnya's family believes the coughing was McMillen gasping and losing consciousness and that 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 "did not lift a finger to help her, instead returning to his desk," according to the suit.

An attorney for Windham and Holt has said they were following protocol at the center.

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.

Gynnya was arrested about 2 a.m. on Jan. 10, 2016, on a domestic violence related offense at her home and charged with 4th degree assault.

The day after McMillen died, the facility's superintendent told investigators "it appears we did everything right," according to an internal investigation.

But despite Michelle Grady's initial claim, the internal investigation lays out myriad mistakes from staffers at all levels throughout the teen's 24-hour stay.

Staffers repeatedly lied about checking on the teen, ate her food when she did not respond, left her lying in the same position for 10 hours without a closer examination to see if she was okay and failed to immediately provide CPR when they learned she was not breathing, among other failures, according to an internal investigation in court records.

While an autopsy determined that Gynnya died in her sleep from a rare heart condition known as sudden cardiac arrhythmia, the internal investigation concluded that "had staff conducted their checks as required, they might have detected a medical issue with her and provided the proper medical assistance that may have prevented her death."

A total of six staffers missed and then falsified 65 bed checks. Officials at the center admitted they do not check video to see if the bed checks are actually made. This has led to a culture where staffers often skip the checks, according to the records.

The internal investigation found that "not verifying the accuracy" of the observation logs "has caused the staff to become complacent. This in turn became a systemic practice of some staff falsifying the Room Observation Forms."

This "systemic breakdown led to staff possibly not noticing (Gynnya) in a medically stressed state," the internal investigation concluded.

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