KALAMAZOO, Mich. – A civil rights lawsuit has been filed in the death of a Michigan teenager who was allegedly restrained to the point he couldn’t breathe by staff members at his youth home because he threw a sandwich.
Cornelius Frederick died last month after being restrained because he supposedly threw a sandwich at Lakeside For Children faculty in Kalamazoo.
A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of his estate, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is taking action, as well.
One of the last photos of Cornelius showed him on life support in a Kalamazoo hospital, where he died May 1.
“I want to know why this happened,” his aunt, Tenia Goshay, said. “I need answers and some justice. We loved him very, very much. I need to know what happened.”
Cornelius was living the past two years at Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo. His mother died when she was 32 years old. His father couldn’t care for him, so Cornelius became a ward of the state.
In late April, Cornelius apparently threw a sandwich.
Civil rights attorney Jon Marko said staff members allegedly restrained Cornelius for 10 minutes, then waited 12 minutes to call for help when it was apparently clear the teen was in distress.
“During that time, he was screaming he couldn’t breathe,” Marko said. “They didn’t get off of him. They didn’t stop.”
On Monday, Marko filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Lakeside Academy and parent company Sequel Youth and Family Services.
On Sunday, the state of Michigan stripped the facility of its contract. But Marko said the state knew there were problems at the home, counting 30 state violations. He said it took the death of Cornelius for the state to act.
Parent company Sequel Youth and Family Services has also been under the microscope in other states. An Oregon state senator sounded the alert that there are safety issues in its youth foster homes, saying, “If they didn’t stop the way they were handling children, someone was going to die.”