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Kentucky to do "internal review" after teen's death in custody

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A Kentucky state official has ordered an "internal review" of policies and procedures in state juvenile detention facilities, after a 16-year-old girl died in a cell on Jan. 11.

A spokeswoman for Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley said Wednesday that the review could lead to changes in state juvenile detention policies. Two separate investigations into the death of Gynnya McMillen are also expected to end soon, according to Lisa Lamb, the spokeswoman.

Initially, few details were released about the girl's death, which occurred during the one night she spent at the Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center, in Elizabethtown, Ky. But after McMillen's sister, LaChe Simms, launched a social media campaign for information, Tilley announced that he ordered a state police investigation to be expedited. A second internal investigation of the death will also be expedited.

"When the investigations are complete, he is going to be as forthcoming about those as is possible, without breaking confidentiality statutes," Lamb said, referring to Tilley. "He's first going to speak with the victim's family and then he'll speak publicly."

Last week, officials acknowledged that an "Aikido restraint" was used on the girl before her death, and 911 audio obtained by 48 Hours' Crimesider revealed Lincoln Village staff did not immediately attempt to resuscitate McMillen when she was found unresponsive. Staff also did not check on McMillen when -- over the course of 3 1/2 hours -- she didn't respond to two offers of food, and a phone call from her mother.

Lamb said that Tilley -- who was appointed Justice Cabinet Secretary in December by newly elected governor Matt Bevin -- has also decided that after the investigations are complete, officials will consider possible changes to juvenile detention policy in Kentucky.

"After the investigation of this particular tragedy, he has also pledged that there will be an internal review of all policy and internal procedures, and if anything needs to be changed, it will change as soon as possible," Lamb said during a phone call Wednesday.

Gynnya McMillen LaChe Simms via Facebook

The use of Aikido, a martial art, has also led to widespread outcry. Lamb elaborated on the technique in an emailed statement. She said the state's Department of Juvenile Justice "has used a nationally-approved system called Aikido Control Training (ACT), which is utilized by various juvenile justice agencies and mental health facilities throughout the country."

Documents obtained by 48 Hours' Crimesider indicate that Indiana and Georgia are among the states that use Aikido in youth facilities. It is not clear how many other states also use Aikido.

Lamb said staff use "a modified version" of the martial art, which is intended to prevent injuries to both children and staff, by using the "energy and force of the child to control the situation without harm."

"This control method does not use any type of strike, punch, choke, wrist lock or throw," Lamb said. The department employs 75 certified instructors, and six master instructors, she said. There are monthly training sessions at each facility.

"There are three levels of ACT that use a continuum of control beginning with voice commands and then graduating to utilizing arm holds. If both are unsuccessful to gain control of the situation, the child may be lowered to the floor using one of the three controls," Lamb said.

About 50 people attended a Jan. 31, 2016, vigil on for Gynnya McMillen at the Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center in Elizabethtown, Ky., where the 16-year-old was found dead on Jan. 11, 2016. Anna-Lysa Gayle for CBS affiliate WLKY

McMillen was brought to the ground, according to Hardin County Deputy Coroner Shana Norton.

Officials said last week that the incident occurred after McMillen refused to take off her sweatshirt in order to be searched and photographed for booking.

"She got up right on her own and walked right to her cell," said Norton, who sat with state troopers and viewed surveillance footage of the incident, and of McMillen in her cell, last week.

Melissa Sickmund, director of the National Center of Juvenile Justice, said in a Tuesday interview that McMillen's response was not altogether unusual for a teen during her first time in custody.

"That first day is traumatizing for them. If you have just been arrested and you are locked up, that is not a normal day. The trauma of it can make kids react in some really strange ways," Sickmund said.

Several experts contacted by 48 Hours' Crimesider brought up first day trauma during interviews about policies and best practices for juvenile detention facilities. They also said there have been instances in which injuries sustained during so-called "positional restraints" at juvenile facilities have subsequently led to asphyxiation, but Norton said the coroner's office examination found no signs of that.

She said there were no petechial hemorrhages, burst blood vessels indicative of asphyxiation.

The autopsy was also ordered by Tilley to be expedited. Norton said it has so far been inconclusive, but there were no visual signs of bruising, and Lincoln Village records do not indicate that McMillen was medicated at the time of her death.

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