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Our series of reports into the mysterious detention center death of 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen.

Juvenile Justice System Uses Physical Restraints Banned In Schools

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Police officer searching man

While state public schools have banned staff from using Aikido-style physical restraints on students, Kentucky’s Department of Juvenile Justice continues to use the method.

This week, the Kentucky Department of Education ordered all public schools to stop using “Aikido Control Training” restraints amid questions over the method’s safety.

Members of a state oversight panel on child abuse recently raised concern that Aikido-style restraints can result in injuries, according to The Courier-Journal, which first reported the school ban.

This same type of restraint is used throughout Kentucky's juvenile justice system and came under scrutiny earlier this year following the in-custody death of 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen.

Asked Friday whether the Department of Juvenile Justice was considering changes to its approach, an agency spokesman declined to comment beyond a released statement.

Spokesman Mike Wynn noted that DJJ is accredited through the American Correctional Association and has used the Aikido-style method since 1996.

“It is specifically designed to prevent injuries and focuses on the most reliable practices to protect the safety of youth and staff in our facilities,” the statement read.

The restraint method, as well as all department policies, will soon come under review by an outside organization, a move initiated after Gynnya’s death at a Hardin County detention center in January.

Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt on Tuesday sentan email advising school districts that Aikido restraints on public school students are in direct violation of regulations.

At issue is the Aikido method’s reliance on "prone or supine restraints."

“Not only are such physical restraints in direct violation of (the regulations), they place our children in harm’s way,” Pruitt wrote in the email.

The DJJ and several school districts -- including Jefferson County Public Schools -- have contracted with Ron Boyd of Aikido Control Training (ACT) in Richmond.

Boyd’s method, also called ACT, was developed by Boyd and Richard Rood, according to an email Boyd sent to DJJ staffers earlier this year.

He noted in the email that ACT "uses the energy and force of the child to control the situation without harm or injury to the child."

"With the proper use of ACT, physicians have documented there is no chance of injury, making ACT the safest control program in the juvenile justice system,” Boyd claimed.

The DJJ spokesman on Friday did not address questions about Boyd’s arrangement with the state agency.

The DJJ appears to have recently re-upped its contract with Boyd. An unsigned two-year contract is currently available on the state’s website. The $8,000 annual contract, which went into effect last month, states that Boyd must allow access to his curriculum, perform an annual review and evaluation program, as well as lead an annual re-certification training.

Boyd appears to operate the Ronin Bushido dojo in Richmond. His website was inoperable Friday.

Reached by phone, Boyd told a reporter he was busy traveling and would have to call back.

The use of restraints in the juvenile justice system garnered attention in the wake of Gynnya's death at the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center. State officials later determined Gynnya had a rare genetic condition and died of an irregular heartbeat. As part of the booking process, less than 24 hours before her death, Gynnya refused to remove her sweatshirt. Several staffers immobilized her via an Aikido-style restraint and removed the sweatshirt, officials said. (Read "Gynnya McMillen Restrained In Detention Center Altercation Before Her Death, State Says")

A state investigation found that six DJJ 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)

In March, a Hardin grand jury indicted two former staffers on a charge of official misconduct. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Of 234 staff violations at DJJ facilities since 2010, about 29 percent of the complaints dealt with excessive or inappropriate use of force, according to a KyCIR analysis earlier this year.

Managing Editor Brendan McCarthy can be reached at bmccarthy@kycir.org or (502) 814.6541.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the use of Aikido-style restraints in public schools is against the law. In fact, it is against state regulations.