In light of the police brutality that has been at the forefront of news today, this is a case that merits some attention. McMillen, a 16-year-old, was brought into a Kentucky juvenile detention center one morning. She was to be held there for the night. During the night, as one of the juvenile staffers checked in on her, they found her dead in her cell. Now, the family is filing a lawsuit against the juvenile detention facility for improper treatment and not acting accordingly.
At the time that McMillen was brought into the juvenile detention center, she was resistant to the demands of the staffers in charge. She was told to remove her sweatshirt so that she could be searched. She was resistant and the staffers forced themselves onto her. She was lowered to the floor face down and taken to a cell. Although this physical exertion was caught on one of the facility’s cameras, it did not provide a good angle. At some point later in the day, one of the staffers, Windham, heard McMillen coughing in her cell. Later that night, she was found dead.
The deceased’s family is now suing on two accounts: 1) forceful restraint and 2) negligence. On the former, the claim is made that the physical altercation between the detention center staffers and McMillen caused her untimely death. On the latter, the family claims that Windham, who was aware of McMillen’s coughing, should have done something. Windham did not report the coughing to anyone.
Of course, the detention facility says that the untimely death was not their fault. They say that there is no indication that simple coughing could possibly amount to something fatal. Windham believes that it was a harmless coughing fit. Moreover, they say that as McMillen had been diagnosed in the past for a cardiac condition, that was the only explanation. Experts have come into the foray. Doctors are saying that if McMillen had received medical attention on time, she could have been saved. Also, there are records that the staff did not properly treat McMillen during her stay, not giving her attention when needed. Supposedly, the staffers failed to “check on her 64 times.”
The most serious claim is negligence. It does seem, based on the video evidence provided, that the staffers as a whole were negligent. Negligence is apparent everywhere. It shows itself in the medical and legal field, when malpractice is committed, and in prison settings, when ample supervision is not given. In order to be liable for negligence though, the court must first determine the standard of care.
Standard of care is the standard by which the person or institution has performed their duty with care. If they have not, they have breached the duty and can be held for negligence. Here, the institution’s duty of care is to treat their inmates with care.
As it can be shown from the videotapes and other evidence, they have mistreated McMillen poorly. She is a 16-year-old and although she resisted frisking, the reaction was too extreme. They pinned her to the ground. They went overboard. She is no Rodney King. She is a seemingly innocent minor who doesn’t want to be there. Also, experts can attest that the institution was aware of McMillen’s worsening condition and yet did nothing. Regardless of the cause, they could have helped out.
Since the standard of care has been breached, the institution can be held for negligence. Once standard of care has been breached, the next thing that is looked at is cause. ‘But for’ causation means that if not for the mistreatment, she would not have died. This is hard to prove. After all, she had an ongoing cardiac condition and there is no evidence that the physical treatment she received was enough to warrant this unfortunate outcome. The other way of establishing causation is proximate cause. This means that if it were foreseeable to the institution that something like this would happen, then they will be held responsible. It is hard to show that the institution knew that this would happen. At the end of the day, it will be a tough task for the family to show that there was negligence.
As to the physical altercation, there probably is not enough on camera to indicate foul play. Otherwise, there could be criminal charges against the staffers. Yet it is hard to believe that if it was not in part because of the physical force imposed on McMillen, that things would not have turned out the way they did.
In light of police brutality that has taken the headlines, incidents like this are troublesome. Dating back to Rodney King and the L.A. riots to Michael Brown today, these abuses of power by the police department are reprehensible. Behavior like this is unacceptable in the 21st century. A new approach to these situations has to be implemented. Otherwise, more people will get hurt and there will be no one to answer for it.
Authored by Sam Behbehani, LegalMatch Legal Writer