Teen who died at Kentucky detention center had heart condition

FRANKFORT, Ky. A 16-year-old black girl found unresponsive after spending one day at a Kentucky juvenile detention facility died because of a heart-related condition, state officials said on Wednesday.

However, an internal investigation into Gynnya McMillen’s death on Jan. 11 at the Lincoln Village Detention Center uncovered misconduct, state Justice Secretary John Tilley told reporters. While that misconduct did not result in her death, it will not be tolerated, he said.

Officials could only verify 75 of 117 checks made on McMillen as detention center employees were determining whether she could be placed with the rest of the residents at the Elizabethtown center, Tilley said.

McMillen had just spent her first night at the facility in Elizabethtown, located about 45 miles south of Louisville.

Police in Shelbyville, located 30 miles east of Louisville, arrested the teen the day before after an altercation at her mother’s house. Guards at the facility used a restraint maneuver to check for drugs or weapons while they processed her, about 17 hours before she went to sleep, officials said.

Since McMillen’s death, several state employees have been fired or resigned, and protesters have demanded the release of surveillance video from the facility.

Tilley and other state officials met with McMillen’s family Tuesday in a meeting he described as emotional. Messages to the family’s attorney were not immediately returned.

One guard has been fired and two more detention center employees are on investigative leave and could be fired, Tilley said. Three others face suspensions, but one of those individuals has already resigned. The cabinet’s commissioner for juvenile justice was previously fired as well.

McMillen suffered from a rare heart condition called Inherited Long QT Syndrome that caused her to die from sudden cardiac arrest while she slept, said Dr. Donna Stewart, a state medical examiner. McMillen’s records were reviewed by the Mayo Clinic and 11 other pathologists, she said. None found that any foul play or trauma contributing to her death.

“Medical examiners can now confidently say that this child, sadly, died in her sleep,” Tilley said.

About 60 hours of video would be released to the family once a separate state police investigation concludes, Tilley said. That investigation is wrapping up and findings will be presented to Hardin County prosecutors, Kentucky State Police said.

Only 17 minutes of McMillen’s stay were not documented on video, but included the four minutes where guards had her on the floor restrained.

(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Editing by Ben Klayman and Leslie Adler)

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