FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky teenager in state custody died in her sleep from a heart condition, and a martial arts hold used to restrain her was not a contributing factor, the state's justice secretary said Wednesday.
At a news conference, Justice Secretary John Tilley reported findings from three independent inquiries into the death of 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen at Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Facility in January.
A state police review uncovered no evidence of foul play, he said, adding that medical examiners found no evidence of lethal blunt force injury and attribute the death to a sudden cardiac arrhythmia.
"Medical examiners can now confidently say that this child, sadly, died in her sleep from an irregular heartbeat," Tilley said. "Multiple investigations confirmed that the restraint was not a factor in this death and resulted in no apparent injuries."
Eleven other pathologists reviewed the autopsy and concurred with the findings, other officials attending the news conference said.
Employees at the detention center used the so-called Aikido restraint when the girl refused to cooperate as they tried to pat her down, said Tilley, who noted the technique is commonly used by juvenile facilities across the country to prevent injuries to the youths and staff. After the technique was used, the girl did not complain of any injuries, and surveillance video showed her walking and talking with staff employees, Tilley said. Investigators looked at use of the restraint as part of their investigation.
While no evidence of wrongdoing was found, a review by the Justice Cabinet's internal investigations branch uncovered a pattern of employee misconduct at the detention facility, including failure to complete regular bed checks and falsification of information logs, Tilley said. He warned of "swift and certain" consequences for any juvenile justice employees who flout policies.
"Some of the misconduct just smacks of outright indifference," he said.
Observation logs indicated 117 checks of the teenager were conducted, but only 75 were confirmed through a video review, said Barney Kinman, head of the Justice Cabinet's internal investigations branch.
The longest void between checks spanned nearly two hours, he said.
Six employees at the Elizabethtown detention center were identified by the cabinet's internal probe as failing to complete regular checks and falsifying information on logs. One employee was terminated, two are on special investigative leave and three others face suspension, though one has resigned, Tilley said.
"Even though these failures did not contribute to the death, they will not be tolerated," he said.
Tilley said the investigations will spur a systemwide review of Kentucky's juvenile justice policies and procedures. The message for employees: "You're on notice: Change is coming," he said. The Justice Cabinet also will enlist an outside agency to do an independent review and recommend changes, he said.
The teen was under constant video surveillance for all but about 17 minutes while at the detention facility, Kinman said. More than 12 of those minutes were when she was showering.
About four minutes of the gap occurred during the restraint when she was on the floor and a counter partially obstructed the camera, he said. A second camera would have captured those events but was malfunctioning at the time, he said.
The teen arrived at the detention center on Jan. 10 after allegedly having a domestic dispute in Shelbyville. She was found dead the following day.
Tilley said he met with the teen's family on Wednesday to update them on the investigative findings.
Her family will receive a full copy of the surveillance footage once state police close their investigation, he said. In doing so, he is waiving the juvenile justice department's standard policy not to release video inside a detention facility due to privacy and security concerns.
"We want to be as open and responsive as possible to give this family the answers they deserve," he said.
A Louisville attorney who has been representing the teen's estate and her mother did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment.
This story has been clarified to show that the state police review uncovered no evidence of foul play, while medical examiners found no evidence of lethal blunt force injury.