Lawsuit: Juvenile Detention Staffer Watched Teen Take ‘Her Last Gasps’

by
Carol Nisar
The family of 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen filed a lawsuit challenging officials’ claims that their daughter died in her sleep while in her juvenile hall cell.

Facebook, Gynnya McMillen

A bereaved family in Kentucky who lost their 16-year-old daughter while she was in a youth detention center alleges that her premature death was attributed to staff negligence. The lawsuit challenges officials’ claims that she died in her sleep, CBS reports.

The ongoing controversy surrounding what really happened back in January to Gynnya McMillen when she died is slowly becoming more nuanced as her family has come forward with a federal lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit filed by McMillen’s family last Wednesday, the teenage girl died in her cell on January 10 while a staff member stood by, watching her, and did nothing to assist her. She had a rare heart rhythm disorder, known as long QT syndrome, and died of a sudden cardiac arrhythmia.

McMillen’s estate filed the suit alleging staff negligence against Kentucky’s Department of Juvenile Justice and multiple employees. McMillen died in custody at the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Hardin County.

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One of the juvenile detention staffers, Reginald Windham, said he saw her seizing in her cell, but did nothing when he witnessed this at 11:39 p.m. The lawsuit includes statements from Windham which prove that he was watching her as she took her last breaths.

He heard a noise coming from her cell and went “to check on her to make sure she had not thrown up and was choking or something like that,” the suit states. For roughly 18 seconds, he peeped through a slit in McMillen’s cell door and could see “her last gasps and dying breaths and final uncontrollable movements and seizure.” There is also surveillance footage which verifies Windham’s presence outside McMillen’s cell.

Employees didn’t log that McMillen had died until 10 hours later, when a staff member found her motionless the next morning at 9:55 a.m on January 11.

McMillen’s sister, LaChe Simms, told CBS, “Seeing my sister in that casket, she didn’t look at peace. She didn’t look like she died in her sleep. It gave me a real uneasy feeling about what [officials] were saying. If you had a seizure and you’re coughing, that’s not dying in your sleep. It’s not dying in your sleep when you wake up and choke for air.”

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Six employees of the detention center are known by the state to have lied about departmental logs and did not perform regular bed checks; three of these have been fired since McMillen’s passing. Bob D. Hayter, commissioner of the state Department of Juvenile Justice, has also been fired.

While McMillen is tragically lost at such a young age, hopefully her family will find justice and be able to provoke more changes in the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice so fatal incidents such as this aren’t repeated. 

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Banner photo credit: Facebook, Gynnya McMillen

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