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16-Year-Old Boy Screamed Out ‘I Can’t Breathe’ During Fatal, Excessive Restraint: Lawsuit

The estate for 16-year-old Cornelius Fredericks is suing Lakeside Academy–a group home in Kalamazoo, Michigan for teenagers with behavioral issues–over the boy’s recent death. The complaint drew clear similarities between this case and the alleged murder of Minnesota man George Floyd at the hands of police.

From the complaint filed Monday [emphasis ours]:

The loss of Cornelius Fredericks’s life at the young adolescent age of sixteen was due to the improper and wrongful use of restraints by staff members at Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In fact, video from Lakeside Academy even shows a staff member placing his/her weight directly on Cornelius’s chest for nearly ten minutes as Cornelius lost consciousness. Cornelius’s scream of “I can’t breathe” was not enough to get the staff members to stop the excessive restraint. 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. Floyd died less than a month after Cornelius Fredericks at the hands of four police officers, one of whom kneeled on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes despite Floyd’s screams that he could not breathe.

Plaintiffs said Fredericks went into cardiac arrest during the April 29 incident; Fredericks died on May 1.

The case at hand and the Floyd case are strictly unrelated, but the complaint highlighted similarities in order to introduce their argument that Lakeside has a pattern of using excessive restraints, and of being negligent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fredericks was hospitalized after the incident, and tested positive for coronavirus, according to the lawsuit.

It allegedly turned out that 40 other residents at Lakeside, and nine staff members had the disease. Nonetheless, the defendants used tear gas on the residents even though the novel respiratory disease was “running rampant through Defendants’ residential facility,” according to the complaint.

Attorney Jonathan Marko, who is spearheading the complaint, is joined by co-counsel Geoffrey Fieger.

“I will not rest until the death of Cornelius and other victimized children are vindicated at the bar of justice,” Fieger said in a statement. “The protection of our most vulnerable must be a top priority. Black lives matter. Black children matter.”

The state pulled Lakeside Academy’s operating license and contract on Thursday. Officials reportedly said after the incident that staff restrained Fredericks after he threw a sandwich.

Kalamazoo County prosecutors are reviewing the case for possible criminal charges.

“We cannot comment on pending legal matters,” said Sequel Youth & Family Services, the organization that staffed and ran Lakeside Academy, in a statement provided to Law&Crime. “That 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 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.”

Update – June 23, 10:31 a.m.: We added a statement from Sequel Youth & Family Services.

[Screengrab via WXMI]

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