Sixteen-year-old Cornelius Fredericks died on May 1 after suffering a heart attack on April 29.
His final words were, “I can’t breathe” as a school staff member laid his full body weight on him, refusing to release his hold.
The staff member placed him in a restraint after he threw a sandwich on the floor at Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Lakeside Academy is a residential youth center.
Now the family of Fredericks is suing Lakeside Academy and the company that owns it Sequel Youth Services of Michigan for $100 million. The lawsuit was filed on June 22 alleging negligence/gross negligence, direct negligence, and wrongful death, WWMT News reports.
Fredericks was in foster care due to his mother dying at the age of 32 and his father being unable to provide care.
The lawsuit cites that “Fredericks died after he was restrained, during which staff sat on his chest as he lost consciousness.” The filing goes on to show that, “Employees waited 12 minutes to call 911, even though Fredericks was limp and unresponsive.” Attorneys for the Fredericks estate say that video from Lakeside Academy shows a staff member placing his/her weight directly on Fredericks’ chest for nearly ten minutes as the victim lost consciousness.
Fredericks was being restrained for throwing a sandwich on the floor.
Following an investigation into Fredericks’ death, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services terminated its contract with Lakeside Academy in June 2020. The academy had at least 30 other violations over the past five years. According to the lawsuit, “the staff at Lakeside Academy had previously used wrongful and improper restraints.”
Additionally the lawsuit asserts, “The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has a laundry list of complaints that it has investigated and addressed regarding employees of Lakeside Academy improperly managing situations with residents.”
Sequel the parent company of Lakeside Academy said the following in a statement:
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Cornelius and acted quickly to terminate all staff involved,” Sequel said Monday. “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 behavioral 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.”
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer released a statement saying in part:
“Protecting our most vulnerable is a top priority of my administration, and the senseless death of a youth at Lakeside for Children in Kalamazoo is intolerable and heartbreaking. We will take steps to prevent tragedies like this from occurring in the future and make sure there is accountability.”