Lawsuit filed against Kzoo youth home for teen’s death

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The estate of a 16-year-old who died after being restrained by staff members at a Kalamazoo youth home has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

On Monday, the estate of Cornelius Fredericks filed the civil rights lawsuit (PDF) against Lakeside Academy and Sequel Youth and Family Services in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court.

Lawyers for the estate say the incident started after Fredericks threw a sandwich in the cafeteria. They say there is a video that shows at least one staff member sitting on his chest for nearly 10 minutes as he lost consciousness. The lawyers alleged the last words he said were “I can’t breathe,” similar to the George Floyd case.

“What happened to Cornelius should’ve never happened,” Jon Marko, attorney for the estate, said Monday. “It was preventable. This facility had been told, it had prior history of problems, of violations of abusive restraints.”

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

“Multiple staff participated in this restraint and several were observed on the video with their weight on Resident A’s chest, abdomen and legs, making this an unsafe and excessive restraint,” a state report (PDF) related to his death found.

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 and work to permanently revoke it.

“Nurse 1 did not call 911 until approximately 12 minutes after Resident A was released from the restraint, although Resident A was limp and unresponsive, and concerns were noted regarding Resident A’s breathing, coloring and pulse,” the report into the death also stated.

Well-known southeast Michigan attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who filed the suit alongside Marko, said Monday they were seeking $100 million in damages.

The lawsuit also alleges nearly 40 residents and nine staff tested positive for COVID-19 after it was discovered Fredericks was positive. Filed documents also allege staff used tear gas on residents sometime after his death. News 8 has not independent confirmed either of those statements.

Lakeside, a home and school for children with behavioral issues, had a history of violations from the state, including failing to properly supervise the youths, using “inappropriate behavior management techniques” with a child and a previous incident of improper restraint.

Last week, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said his office is still working through a few different reports on the death and expected to be able to make a decision on whether charges are appropriate sometime this week. 

Sequel Youth & Family Services, the company that manages Lakeside, sent News 8 the following statement:

We cannot comment on pending legal matters. That said, we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Cornelius Frederick 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.

Sequel Youth & Family Services

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