Teen who died at Kentucky detention center had heart condition: officials

By Steve Bittenbender

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Reuters) - 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.

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

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

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.

Police in Shelbyville, 30 miles east of Louisville, arrested the teen the day before after an altercation at her mother's house. Officials said 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.

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 on Tuesday. Messages to the family’s attorney were not immediately returned.

Civil rights group ColorofChange.org said the state had not gone far enough in addressing problems within the state juvenile justice department.

"We are calling on the (U.S.) Department of Justice to intervene and investigate whether Gynnya's civil rights were violated and to conduct a practice and procedure investigation of Kentucky’s Juvenile Justice Department," the group said in a statement.

Tilley earlier said he would welcome a federal probe.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Justice could not be reached to comment.

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

McMillen’s records were reviewed by the Mayo Clinic and 11 other pathologists, medical examiner Stewart said. None found that foul play or trauma had contributed 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 after state police concluded a separate investigation, Tilley said. That investigation is wrapping up and findings will be presented to Hardin County prosecutors, Kentucky State Police said.

Seventeen minutes of McMillen’s stay were not documented on video, including four minutes during which she was restrained by guards.

(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender, additional reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington; Editing by Ben Klayman and Leslie Adler)