National News

Girl Found Dead In Cell At Juvenile Facility Had Been Restrained By Staff

By J.A. Salaam -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Feb 4, 2016 - 4:52:57 PM

What's your opinion on this article?

Gynnya McMillen, 16, was found dead in her juvenile detention cell, a day after staff used an “Aikido restraint” on her, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice confi rmed Friday.“ Photo: Justice for GynnyaMcMillen/
New findings in the case of 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen who was found dead in her cell at the Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center in Elizabethtown, Kentucky the morning of Jan. 11, have raised more questions surrounding the circumstances and cause of the girl’s death.

The day before Gynnya’s body was found staff used an “Aikido restraint” on her, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice confirmed. Aikido is a Japanese martial art that utilizes grappling and joint-locking techniques. 

Gynnya was restrained after reportedly refusing to remove her hooded sweatshirt in order to be searched and photographed for booking at the facility, Stacy Floden, spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice’s Director of Communication and Program Services, stated in an e-mail.

The teen was brought to the juvenile facility in the early morning of Jan. 10 by local authorities and charged with misdemeanor assault after what has been described as a “domestic altercation” at her mother’s home in Shelbyville.

According to media reports when a sheriff’s deputy arrived at 9:55 a.m. on Jan. 11 to transport Gynnya to a court appearance, staff went to her cell where she was reportedly cold and not breathing. A full investigation has been launched by Kentucky State Police and the Internal Investigations Branch within the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

Lisa Lamb, interim spokesperson for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said “standard operating procedure” at the detention center requires that detainees are checked on every 15 minutes while they are locked in their cells. Ms. Lamb revealed there was a working camera in Gynnya’s cell and that footage has been turned over to investigators.

In an internal review the Juvenile Justice Agency discovered an employee failed to make all of the 15-minute visual bed checks required by policy. There was a three and a half hour gap where the teen was not checked.   This employee has been placed on special investigative leave with pay, said Ms. Floden. “Any further disciplinary action will depend on the outcome of internal reviews or the findings of any of the external investigations,” she added.  Gynnya was placed alone in a cell sometime after she was restrained.

Hardin County Coroner Dr. William Lee Jr., who performed the autopsy on Gynnya, told The Final Call he did not find any visual injuries that would cause her death.

“This is very puzzling and frustrating for me and the family. We are waiting for the blood test to come back from a lab in Indianapolis, Indiana. This could take up to another three to five weeks so we are hoping to find something, a reason why she died,” said Dr. Lee.

Extensive internal and external tests on Gynnya’s body were performed, he explained. But even he is perplexed at this point as to what caused the young girl’s death.

“I’ve been a coroner for 30 years and have only had maybe five times like this where I had to write on the death certificate, ‘Could not be determined.’ We are at the mercy of the lab, we can’t get the results any faster, and we are not like CSI. We just have to wait for the pathologist Dr. Stewart to give me her report,” said Dr. Lee.

Gynnya’s brother Gregory Mitchell, 37, wants to find out what happened to his little sister.

“My sister was silly and real cool to be around, loved having fun but was quiet to herself.  Just like typical 16-year-old girls (she) always wanted her hair fixed and nails done,” he told The Final Call. The two had the same father, but when he died back in November 2014 Gynnya came to live with Mr. Mitchell and his fiancé but the state ended up taking her, he explained.

However he had recently been awarded custody of his sister and she was to come live with him at the end of January before her life was cut tragically short.  

Gynnya had been living at Maryhurst—A Journey of Hope family treatment home for approximately 10 months. The home granted Gynnya a weekend pass to visit her mother. However, police responded to the dispute at her mother’s home, and transported her to the juvenile detention facility instead of back to Maryhurst, which was closer.

 “This is such a tragedy and it affects all of us that enjoyed working with her and knew her. We are heartbroken by this, to have a child die is very sad. This was her first time in our facility, I really can’t say much more than that, all we can do is pray and find out what happened,” Judy Lambeth, President and CEO of Maryhurst told The Final Call.

Brad Harrison, a journalist and CEO of UrbanMaxx Magazine, is based in Kentucky. He has reported on Gynnya’s case and questions why the teen was not taken back to Maryhurst instead of placed at a juvenile detention center.

“Why would they take her almost 60 miles away? When I spoke with Ms. Judy Lambeth at the home she was staying at, she told me they would have picked her up but no one ever called them to do so,” he said.

The frustration comes from this investigation not being transparent, he told The Final Call. “Gynnya McMillen had no known medical conditions prior to being incarcerated and 16 year-old girls don’t just suddenly die in their sleep,” he said.  “The culture of African Americans dying or being criminally assaulted in police custody without consequences needs to end. We must make sure that those who commit these criminal acts against people of color are held accountable,” he added.

Gynnya was placed in a cell by herself sometime after being restrained but did not respond the next morning when food was offered at 6:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m. or later when her mother called, reported There was reportedly nearly three and a half hours between when she was first offered food and when the deputy arrived for her at 9:55 a.m. This contradicts what her brother said.

“I don’t know where they get 24 hours from. Her mama didn’t call the police until about 1:46 in the morning and by 5:30 a.m. when they went in there to check on her I bet her little self was already dead,” he said.

“This don’t make no damn sense to me. There’s cameras everywhere in there and if you watching like you should why didn’t they see her not moving? Then they say nothing was wrong with her body, then why does her finger look broke when she was in the casket? My daughter took the picture and it don’t look right,” said Mr. Mitchell.

“This was her first time being locked up or in a place like that, she was out on a weekend pass visiting her mother when they got into it. Her mother called the police and said her car wasn’t working to take her back,” said Mr. Mitchell. “All this could have been avoided.  Hell man, that’s my sister.”