GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A small protest was held Saturday afternoon to demand justice and raise awareness for a 16-year-old who died after being restrained by staff members at a Kalamazoo youth home.

Cornelius Fredericks died May 1, two days after he was restrained and then suffered cardiac arrest at Lakeside Academy.

Investigators found Fredericks was “wrongfully restrained,” the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a Thursday release. It was among 10 violations the state found when it investigated the teen’s death, leading state officials to suspend the facility’s license.

A few dozen people held signs and listened to speakers during the protest held in Fredericks’ honor outside Lakeside Academy.

One of the speakers, William White, got to know Fredericks while working at an institution in the Detroit area.

“Cornelius was a Sour Patch Kid,” White said. “He had a really, really tough exterior, but a really soft interior. He had the biggest heart.”

White said Fredericks was 13 years old when he became a ward of the state and sent to the facility for behavioral issues.

“The cards that he was dealt in his past came to torment him — reminded him of the trauma that he had been through gave him rough days sometimes,” White said. “He was a kid that wanted to be loved and accepted.”

Fredericks was later moved to Lakeside Academy, a home and school for children with behavioral issues, in Kalamazoo.

White said it’s been extremely difficult mourning the loss of Fredericks.

“Alongside being heartbroken and sad, I am angry and confused,” he said. “Simply because too often there are kids institutionalized and put into these facilities with individuals who don’t really care about their well-being.”

Many of the protesters at Saturday’s event were especially angry to learn Lakeside had a history of violations from the state.

“Taking away the license of a facility where they’ve had violations in the past is just sugarcoating it,” said activist Marcina Cole.

State officials say they’re currently working to revoke Lakeside’s license following the investigation into Fredericks’ death.

On Saturday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released the following statement about Fredericks’ death and MDHHS suspending the license of Lakeside:

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. 

Today I directed MDHHS Director Robert Gordon to take every step necessary to ensure Sequel Youth and Family Services — the company that provided staffing for Lakeside for Children where the 16-year-old died — no longer provides services for facilities licensed by the department.”  Governor Whitmer’s directive follows MDHHS’s announcement that it will eliminate the use of restraints against youth in its care, and review and reform its policies to prevent future tragedies. The MDHHS Division of Child Welfare conducted an investigation of the facility in coordination with other department investigators and local law enforcement. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer