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Lawyer for Gynnya McMillen's family will hire independent experts

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- An attorney for the mother of a girl who died in a Kentucky juvenile detention center cell says he plans to hire experts to examine surveillance video from the detention center, as well as the girl's autopsy.

When two state investigations into the death of Gynnya McMillen wrap up, Ron Hillerich said he and the child's family intend to examine the evidence, and then hire independent experts to assess the findings as well. McMillen was found dead on in her cell on Jan. 11, after the one night she spent at the Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center in Elizabethtown, Ky.

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Gynnya McMillen LaChe Simms via Facebook

State officials have confirmed to media that an "Aikido restraint" was used on the girl before her death, and 911 audio revealed 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.

Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley ordered two state investigations into McMillen's death to be expedited, and this week called for an "internal review" of policies and procedures in state juvenile detention facilities.

In a statement emailed Friday to 48 Hours' Crimesider, the office of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said he "has the highest confidence in Sec. Tilley and his tireless efforts to quickly and accurately gather answers."

"As the father of five teenage daughters, Governor Bevin is heartbroken for Gynnya's family and has pledged that this case will be investigated as thoroughly as it would be if it were one of his own girls," wrote Jessica Ditto, the governor's communications director. "For legal reasons and out of respect for all involved, the governor cannot comment on specific details until the information from the ongoing investigations is complete."

An initial autopsy done Jan. 12 was inconclusive. Tilley also requested in January that the full autopsy, originally expected to take several weeks, be expedited. Hardin County Deputy Coroner Shana Norton said on Wednesday that videos of the "Aikido" incident and of McMillen in her cell were reviewed in late January by her office and state troopers. Norton said it did not appear to cause "lethal trauma" to the girl.

Hillerich said Friday that if the county's full autopsy comes back inconclusive, he may arrange for an independent one.

"There has to be some cause of death," Hillerich said.

McMillen was brought to Lincoln Village on Jan. 10 after she was charged with misdemeanor assault, following what police called a "domestic incident" at her mother's home in Shelbyville, Ky. Officials say a court-designated worker -- a Kentucky official who handles pre-court processing related to juveniles -- made the recommendation that McMillen be brought to a detention center.

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

Justice Cabinet spokesperson Lisa Lamb said Wednesday that 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."

Still, the use of the martial art on the teen has caused widespread outcry, leading to the launch of an online petition calling for release of the surveillance video.

Hillerich declined to comment on whether he thought the incident factored into McMillen's death, saying he didn't want to "try the case in the media." However, he noted it was not something he had encountered in any case before.

"Using martial arts to remove a sweatshirt does sound a little strange to me," Hillerich said. "The video tape should be the proof in the pudding."

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