WEST BLOOMFIELD, Michigan (AP) – A civil suit filed Monday after the death of a 16-year-old in a Michigan juvenile detention center said he shouted, “I can’t breathe,” because at least one employee was putting his weight on the Black teen’s chest almost 10 minutes.
The lawsuit filed in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court lists Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo and Sequel Youth and Family Services as defendants.
Cornelius Fredericks died on May 1 after cardiac arrest on April 29. At the time, authorities said he was being held by staff after throwing a sandwich.
His death came nearly a month before George Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25 with a knee of a white police officer pressing his neck to the ground.
Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” have become an appeal for those protesting police brutality against black people and racial injustice during demonstrations in the United States.
“The excessive use of restrictions and the lack of concern for Cornelius’ life draw an eerily similar comparison to that of George Floyd’s death,” said the lawsuit, claiming to be negligent and saying that Lakeside staff are inaccurate has unlawfully used restrictions on Fredericks.
Authorities have not provided details about the race of the affected employee or members.
“A video from the Lakeside Academy even shows an employee placing his / her weight directly on Cornelius’s chest for nearly ten minutes while Cornelius lost consciousness,” the lawsuit said. “Cornelius’ cry of” I can’t breathe “was not enough to get employees to stop the excessive reluctance.”
Detroit lawyer Jon Marko, who filed the civil rights lawsuit, said he has not seen the video yet, but spoke to the mother of another child at the facility.
That child “claims to have heard Cornelius scream,” I can’t breathe, “said Marko, adding that a report from the state’s health and humanitarian service confirmed that account.
The lawsuit seeks damages for damages permitted under the Michigan Wrongful Death Act. No financial amount was specified.
The Associated Press left a message Monday to request comment from Lakeside Academy.
Continued Youth and Family Services told The AP in an email that it cannot comment on pending legal issues, but fired all concerned employees and fired the former Lakeside director.
“We have been in regular contact with law enforcement officers and government officials to ensure justice is served and accelerated the work already underway in our organization to move to a worry-free model of care,” the company said. “We take our commitment to meeting the significant health needs of all our students incredibly seriously and remain focused on our mission to provide the best possible care and treatment.”
The foster care system or parents placed youth in Lakeside Academy, a residential treatment facility approximately 225 miles west of Detroit, to receive behavioral health services after abuse or neglect.
Fredericks was a district of the state, Marko told reporters on Monday.
His aunt, Tenia Goshay, is named in the lawsuit as the representative of Fredericks’ estate. The teen’s mother is dead. His father and the rest of the family couldn’t take care of him, Marko said.
Fredericks had been at Lakeside Academy for about two years, Goshay told reporters.
“I want to know what happened to my cousin,” she said.
The state last week terminated its youth youth contracts in Michigan’s foster care and juvenile justice systems, saying that all 125 youths in Lakeside were placed in other “settings according to their individual needs.”
The facility also had its permit to work suspended.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer has told the department to sever ties with Sequel Youth and Family Services, which provided staff to the Lakeside Academy.
After Fredericks’s death, Lakeside Academy staff said that what was happening was not in line with the institution’s mission to “serve and care for our customers excellently.”
But Michigan’s Health and Human Services Department has conducted more than 30 surveys of maintenance, staff qualifications, discipline, behavior management, resident restraint, and staff adequacy at Lakeside Academy since 2016, the lawsuit said.
Six months prior to Fredericks’ death, there were six separate violations involving improper use by personnel of escalation techniques, including improper coercive measures, according to the lawsuit, and since 2016, at least eight employees have been fired for improper use of coercive, non-use proper descaling techniques or supervise young people.
Michigan Health and Human Services officials have said that a profit eye academy investigation identified 10 licensing violations, including non-compliance with resident restraint and discipline rules.
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