A 16-year-old Cornelius Fredericks in the care of a for-profit residential youth center in Kalamazoo reportedly died two days after employees put their full weight on his chest for nearly 10 minutes, according to attorneys for his family.
The Black Michigan teen was restrained by staff for throwing a sandwich in the cafeteria of Lakeside Academy and was inappropriately placed in restraint by staff members, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the teen’s estate Monday. Before his death, Fredericks reportedly screamed, “I can’t breathe”.
It all started on April 29 when Fredericks allegedly threw a sandwich. In a video obtained by attorneys representing Fredericks’ estate, one unidentified staff member at the facility was seen putting his full weight on Fredericks’ chest as he screamed.
The lawsuit indicates that other staff were involved, and an investigation from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services found that several staff members put their weight on his chest, abdomen, and legs, too.
Jon Marko, the family’s attorney said at least one staff member of Lakeside Academy sat directly on Frederick’s chest as he lost consciousness. “Employees waited 12 minutes to call 911, even though Fredericks was unresponsive,” Marko said.
Speaking at a news conference, Marko said: “It’s a horrible, tragic case. We want to make sure this never happens to another child.”
“Cornelius’s scream of ‘I can’t breathe’ was not enough to get the staff members to stop the excessive restraint”.
In a complaint filed in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, Marko added that: “The excessive use of restraints and the lack of concern for Cornelius’s life draw an eerily similar comparison to that of George Floyd’s death.”
“I want to know why this happened,” Fredericks’ aunt, Tenia Goshay said. “I want some justice for my nephew.” Meanwhile, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting is reviewing the case to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
Marko revealed that an investigation into Fredericks’ death showed that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services terminated its contract with Lakeside Academy in June and the academy had at least 30 other violations over the past five years.
Prior to Fredericks’ death, hospital staff diagnosed him with coronavirus. About 40 other residents and some staff later tested positive too, and Fredericks’ family accuses the facility of being negligent.
Sequel Youth and Family Services which runs a litany of schools similar to Lakeside Academy nationwide is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit. According to the lawsuit, under Sequel’s management, Lakeside Academy has been party to more than 30 state investigations over maintenance, staff qualifications, staff sufficiency, discipline, behavior management, and restraint since 2016.
In a statement, a representative for Sequel Youth and Family Services said: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Cornelius and acted quickly to terminate all staff involved. Additionally, we have removed the former executive director of Lakeside from the organization.”
“We have been in regular contact with law enforcement and state officials to help ensure justice is served and have accelerated the work that was already underway across our organization to move to a restraint-free model of care”.
“We take our obligation to meet the significant behavioural health needs of all our students incredibly seriously and remain focused on our mission of providing the absolute best care and treatment possible for our clients, ” the statement read.
Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting is reviewing the case to determine whether criminal charges are warranted. The State says it is in the process to revoke licensing for the facility where this youth died.
“And we are taking steps so that Sequel Youth and Family Services, the company that manages the facility where the young man died will no longer provide services for facilities licensed by our department,” the state said in a press release