Black teen died after screaming 'I can't breathe' while restrained at a for-profit youth center in Kalamazoo, lawsuit states

Jun 22, 2020 at 2:44 pm
Cornelius Fredericks in the hospital before he died. - Cornelius Fredericks' family
Cornelius Fredericks' family
Cornelius Fredericks in the hospital before he died.

Before his death, 16-year-old Cornelius Fredericks screamed, “I can’t breathe,” while he was improperly placed in a restraint by staff members of a for-profit residential youth center in Kalamazoo, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the teen's estate Monday.

Fredericks, who was Black and in foster care, was restrained by staff for throwing a sandwich in the cafeteria of Lakeside Academy. He went into cardiac arrest at a hospital and died 30 hours later on May 1.

The family’s attorney, Jon Marko, 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 limp and unresponsive, Marko said.

“It’s a horrible, tragic case," Marko said at a news conference Monday. "We want to make sure this never happens to another child.”

Fredericks’ aunt, Tenia Goshay said she wants answers and accountability.

“I want to know why this happened,” Goshay said. “I want some justice for my nephew.”

Following an investigation into Fredericks’ death, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services terminated its contract with Lakeside Academy in June. The academy had at least 30 other violations over the past five years, Marko said.

At the hospital, Fredericks tested positive for COVID-19. Follow-up testing at the facility revealed that nearly 40 other residents and nine staffers were also positive for COVID-19.

Sequel Youth and Family Services is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.

In a statement, Sequel Youth said it can't comment on "pending legal matters."

"That said, we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Cornelius and acted quickly to terminate all staff involved," the statement reads. "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."

Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting is reviewing the case to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.

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