In a demonstration at the state Capitol on Thursday, activists called on Gov. Matt Bevin to make reforms to the state’s juvenile detention system after the death of Gynnya McMillen, the 16-year old girl who died while in custody at a Hardin County detention center earlier this year.
Gynnya died in her sleep while at the Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center. As part of an internal state investigation earlier this year, officials found deficiencies in the teen’s care, as well as misconduct by employees at Lincoln Village.
Enchanta Jackson, a black activist group with Color of Change, says the state has made no “real accountability or reform” changes since Gynnya’s death.
“Gov. Bevin has done nothing to ensure justice for Gynnya, and he’s done nothing to ensure the safety of other children in the detention centers,” she said.
The group called on Gov. Bevin to close the Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center, fire the center’s superintendent, Michelle Brady, and have an outside organization investigate.
The state investigation found that six employees failed to do regular bed checks and falsified departmental logs. Three of those employees have been fired since Gynnya’s death. The commissioner of the Juvenile Justice Department, Bob D. Hayter, was also fired. (Read KyCIR’s coverage of Gynnya McMillen’s case)
State officials say Gynnya died of an irregular heartbeat while sleeping in her jail cell.
The group also delivered a petition signed by 193,700 people demanding that Bevin “take action against the corruption, misconduct and negligence that led to McMillen’s death.”
Gynnya was arrested after her mother called 911, alleging that Gynnya had assaulted her. Police detained Gynnya and took her to Lincoln Village near Elizabethtown, about 70 miles away.
State Sen. Reggie Thomas, a Democrat from Lexington, said law enforcement should change its policy that “the first to the phone wins.”
“Gynnya was arrested because her mother called first, and because her mother called first she was assumed — Gynnya, that is — to be the perpetrator in this situation,” he said.
Gynnya had been transitioning to life back at home after living at Louisville’s Maryhurst, the state’s oldest child-welfare agency. In the 911 call, Gynnya’s mother can be heard screaming at her daughter, calling her a “dumb-ass whore.”
Amanda Mullins Bear, the managing attorney at the Children’s Law Center, said the state should use better screening tools on children accused of crimes.
“We should be ensuring that detention is only used as a last alternative when no other alternative exists,” she said.
A statement from the Justice Cabinet said it is planning to “engage an external organization, which will review these matters for possible reforms.” The statement also says the Department of Juvenile Justice is reviewing its personnel and policies.
“We believe these efforts will provide the most rapid and effective approach to addressing concerns at the facility,” the statement said.
This story was produced by Ryland Barton, a reporter with our news partner Kentucky Public Radio.