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Hours before 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen was found dead in her cell, a detention staffer used a martial arts hold on her.

According to a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, McMillen refused to remove her sweatshirt for a booking photo and patdown, leading one staffer to use the hold on her.

“The staff performed an Aikido restraint hold to safely conduct a pat-down search and remove the youth’s hoodie,” spokesperson Stacy Floden stated. “The purpose of having multiple staff involved in a controlled restraint is to ensure the safety of the youth and staff.”

Aikido is a form of martial arts that focuses on defending yourself without injuring your attacker. However, since Aikido is simply the style of martial art used and not a specific hold, it is not immediately clear what kind of hold was used in order to restrain McMillen.

“As far as I’m concerned that is a completely inappropriate use of a restraint,” juvenile justice expert Michele Deitch said. “This goes back to not being so punitive with kids. That’s not just how you interact if you want to achieve a positive social response.”

McMillen was found dead in her cell at Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center, having been left overnight without being checked on, despite a policy stating that juvenile detainees in isolation must be checked on every fifteen minutes. Her body was discovered “in a sleeping position” in a “secure” room at 9:55 a.m. after she failed to respond twice to queries about whether she wanted anything to eat.


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