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Kentucky Juvenile Justice Head Ousted Following Gynnya McMillen's Death

Gynnya McMillen
Gynnya McMillen

This story has been updated to include a statement from the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, Hayter and an attorney representing Gynnya McMillen's mother.

A major shakeup has occurred in the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, less than a month after 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen died in a state-run detention center.

Commissioner Bob D. Hayter, who had run the agency since November 2014, is gone, according to sources and an employee in Hayter’s former office. Hayter had been with the department since 2006, first as a regional director, later as deputy commissioner of support services.

Stacy Floden, the department’s director of communications, also has left, WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has learned. Sources and an employee in her former office confirmed her exit.

An employee at Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Hardin County, who had failed to make mandated bed checks on Gynnya, was also dismissed.

Hayter’s and Floden’s departures came on the heels of the Jan. 11 death of Gynnya McMillen. Hers was the first death in a state-run juvenile-detention center since 1999.

The DJJ is part of the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

"There’s nothing to talk about," Hayter told KyCIR. "You work at the pleasure of the governor, and they decided they no longer need my services."

Hayter said he had "no idea" why he was terminated, or whether it was related to Gynnya's death. "They generally don't tell you," he said.

Floden could not be reached for comment. It was not clear what sparked their departures from the department.

Investigations into Gynnya’s death are continuing, and the DJJ so far has disclosed minimal information about the circumstances surrounding it. But the agency has acknowledged that she was not properly monitored by Lincoln Village staff in the hours prior to her death, and that she was physically restrained by staff after refusing to remove her hooded sweatshirt. ( Read KyCIR's continuing coverage of Gynnya's death.)

Reginald Windham, a Lincoln Village employee, was suspended after Gynnya’s death for failing to follow policy by not conducting the “bed checks” required at 15-minute intervals, and for falsifying documentation of the detention center’s “room observation log.” He was fired on Friday, according to the DJJ.

Windham had a disciplinary record at Lincoln Village dating back to 2006, including two incidents in which he was found to have used excessive force against a resident, as first reported by BuzzFeed.

Following one of those incidents, documents show, Windham was suspended for five days in January 2007 for using “inappropriate and excessive force” resulting in an injury to a youth at Lincoln Village, and also for using “verbal threats of harm” toward him. In addition, a department investigation concluded that Windham falsified a report in connection with the encounter.

The second instance of excessive force, in which Windham was found to have dragged a female juvenile into her cell by her feet, resulted only in a reprimand, issued to Windham in July 2010, documents show.

The Justice and Public Safety Cabinet issued the following statement late Tuesday morning.
The Governor’s Office and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet remain committed to transparency in the tragic youth death at Lincoln Village Juvenile Regional Detention Center on Jan. 11. Today, the Cabinet announced two employee actions as investigations into the case continue. A Lincoln Village employee, who failed to carry out required bed checks on the youth, has been dismissed. The employee was previously placed on special investigative leave, and was sent notice of his dismissal Friday morning. Before news accounts late Friday, the Justice Cabinet was not made aware that the employee’s work record included previous disciplinary actions. While these disciplinary actions were not connected to the death, they reveal a pattern of unacceptable behavior for someone who supervises youth. Justice Secretary John Tilley, who was sworn into office in late December, has advised Cabinet officials that full communication on such matters is essential to fostering a transparent approach. Late Friday, Bob Hayter, who served as commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice, also was relieved of duties. He had held the position since November 2014. Kentucky State Police and the Justice Cabinet’s Internal Investigations Branch are close to completing investigations into the death. Results will first be shared with the youth’s family, and information will be released to the public to the fullest extent allowed by law.
The Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice is one of five departments under the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. The department is responsible for prevention programs for at-risk youth, court intake, pre-trial detention, residential placement/treatment services, probation, community aftercare/reintegration programs and youth awaiting adult placement or court.

Floden was the department’s main spokesperson following Gynnya’s death as the state was inundated by media requests for documents and responses to questions. Before joining state government in 2006, Floden was a sports anchor for WKYT-TV in Lexington.

Officials have said Gynnya was discovered “in a sleeping position” in a “secure” room at Lincoln Village on Jan. 11, and appeared to have died in her sleep. The Hardin County coroner said there were no obvious signs of trauma or a drug overdose, and that toxicology and other reports may take several weeks or more to complete.

Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley has asked that the medical tests be expedited. State Police have said “no foul play” is suspected.

Ron Hillerich, a Louisville attorney representing Gynnya's mother and the teen's estate, called news of Windham's dismissal, "too little too late."

Given Windham's past record, Hillerich said, he was at a loss to explain "why someone with the department didn't relieve him of his duties before now."

Hillerich declined to comment on Hayter's departure until he learned more about it.

Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at rdunlop@kycir.org or (502) 814.6533.

This story was reported by WFPL's  Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

R.G. Dunlop is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has exposed government corruption and resulted in numerous reforms. Email R.G. at rdunlop@lpm.org.

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