Gynnya McMillen died three months ago, and her family and friends are still trying to understand why.

McMillen, a 16-year-old African-American, was taken to Kentucky’s Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Facility on Jan. 10 following an altercation with her mother. The next morning, she was found dead in her room. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be sudden cardiac arrhythmia, a rare heart condition.

Rewire reports:

Little has been written about the girl’s case, but advocates and organizers say it is illustrative of failures at multiple points in the state’s juvenile justice system. …

One of the most pressing questions among advocates, attorneys and McMillen’s family is whether there is a link between a scuffle that took place during her intake at the facility and her death several hours later.

By Kentucky officials’ own admission, multiple adult staff members physically restrained McMillen using an “aikido” hold—a modified martial arts move—after the teen allegedly refused to remove her sweatshirt as part of a routine check-in procedure. As Graham Kates has reported for CBS News, surveillance camera footage shows staff bringing McMillen to the ground and holding her there for four minutes and 15 seconds. However, the footage fails to capture the full extent of the incident, since the girl was brought down behind a counter and remains hidden from view for much of the incident, according to Kates.

Although state officials have “vehemently denied” allegations that the staff’s treatment of the girl played a role in her death, McMillen’s family continues to question the circumstances. A Facebook page titled “Justice for Gynnya McMillen” has been extremely active in raising awareness of about her death and mistreatment by the juvenile detention facility.

Her family “has also consistently drawn attention to the fact that staff members at the facility failed to conduct mandatory 15-minute bed checks throughout the night, and were slow to perform CPR on the girl when at last she was found to be unconscious in her room.”

Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley has stated that since McMillen’s death, “one employee has been fired, two were placed on special investigative leave, two others face suspension and third who would have been suspended has resigned” following an internal investigation. Reginald Wyndham and Victor Holt, two employees of the juvenile detention center, were arraigned last week on charges of misconduct. A trial is expected sometime this summer.

Protesters rallied outside the courthouse the day Wyndham and Holt appeared in court, holding up “Black Lives Matter” signs. Activists on social media platforms urged others to #SayHerName, as McMillen’s case highlights the overarching problem of police mistreatment of African-Americans throughout the country.

“[T]he circumstances surrounding her death are indicative of a long history of policing and punishing Black girls that advocates say has been largely sidelined,” writes Rewire.

While a grand jury may place blame on the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Facility, it will take more comprehensive criminal justice reforms to end widespread systemic violence against African-Americans.

–Posted by Emma Niles

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