The day before she was found dead in her room at a state juvenile-detention center, Gynnya McMillen was physically restrained by staff because she refused to remove her hooded sweatshirt, according to the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice.
Employees demanded on Jan. 10 that the 16-year-old remove the sweatshirt so she could be searched and photographed as part of the booking process at the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center, DJJ spokeswoman Stacy Floden said Friday.
“The youth’s repeated refusal to cooperate with staff and remove her outer garment prompted the restraint,” Floden said. 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.
Asked whether Gynnya complained of or exhibited any injury or distress in connection with the restraint, Floden said that matter was still being reviewed by legal authorities.
The latest comments from the state shed slightly more light on the circumstances surrounding Gynnya’s death, the first in a state-run juvenile-detention center since 1999. Family, friends and others have questioned whether the cause of her death was natural. (Read KyCIR’s coverage of her case)
Gynnya was found dead, in a “sleeping position,” in a private, secured room in the early morning hours of Jan. 11, about 28 hours after arriving at the detention center in Hardin County, authorities have said.
The Hardin County coroner said she bore no apparent signs of physical trauma and that toxicology tests could provide a clearer portrait of her death. State police do not suspect foul play.
The state previously disclosed that a Lincoln Village staff member failed to appropriately monitor Gynnya by checking on her in required 15-minute intervals. The employee, who was not identified, has been placed on “special investigative leave with pay,” according to authorities. The state has not said how many of the mandatory checks were missed.
State officials said Gynna did not respond on the morning of Jan. 11 to offers of breakfast and a snack, or when asked whether she wanted to accept a telephone call. Not until she was due for a court appearance shortly before 10 a.m. were efforts made to physically rouse her, according to Floden.
Medical staff were notified when she did not respond, Floden said. Gynnya could not be resuscitated and was pronounced dead a short time later. Multiple agencies, including the Department of Juvenile Justice and Kentucky State Police, are investigating.
Floden said that juvenile center staff generally do not enter a detainee’s cell unless there are “obvious signs of distress” or services are being provided, such as delivering medications. A Lincoln Village employee went into Gynnya’s cell on all three occasions and spoke to her, but she did not respond, according to Floden.
“Her silence was consistent with her behavior and lack of communication with staff since her arrival,” Floden said, and that attempts to rouse Gynnya were only “verbal,” and did not involve touching or shaking her.
The restraint incident at Lincoln Village came just hours after a domestic-violence episode in Shelby County involving Gynnya and one of her parents. Shelbyville police have said the parent received minor injuries and that Gynnya was the “perpetrator.” She was charged with misdemeanor assault and taken to Lincoln Village.
Rebecca DiLoreto, who teaches law at the University of Kentucky and Northern Kentucky University, said Lincoln Village employees should have done more than simply speak to Gynnya when they went to her cell — especially because she had been involved in two emotionally charged physical altercations in the previous 24-plus hours.
“If all they did was call out to her, I don’t know how they could have determined that she heard them,” said DiLoreto, a long-time legal advocate for children and young adults. “They’re entitled to go shake her and say, ‘let’s get up, let’s sit up.’ If they failed to have that degree of contact with her, they’re dealing with an unknown.”
Gynnya’s relatives on Friday referred questions to a Louisville attorney, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 814.6533.
This story was reported by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.