KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Three staff members involved in the improper restraint of a 16-year-old student at a residential facility in Michigan have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
A fourth person was charged with negligence after allegedly failing to seek adequate medical care for the teenager.
The incident happened at Lakeside Academy, a residential treatment facility in Kalamazoo, Mich intended for young adults ages 12 to 18 placed through the foster care system or by their parents to receive behavioral health services.
On April 29, Cornelius Fredericks allegedly threw part of a sandwich at another resident and a Lakeside staff member used an “improper restraint” on him. The restraint resulted in him losing consciousness, going into cardiac arrest and dying two days later.
According to the findings of a six-week investigation, the staff member sat on the chest of Cornelius for nearly 10 minutes until he lost consciousness.
Investigators reviewed all facility incident reports drafted by staff involved and reviewing video recordings of the incident preceding the teen’s death. They said staff members pushed Cornelius to the ground and restrained him after he threw a sandwich in the cafeteria.
According to an executive summary by the state health department, multiple staff members put teen into a restraint that put the teen flat on the floor.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Family Director JooYeun Chang said the restrain that killed Cornelius was excessive and disturbing.
“It was shocking to watch the video of the restraint,” Chang said.
Chang said multiple staff members attempted to conduct a supine restraint, which involves a person applying various holds using their arms, legs or body weight to immobilize an individual or bring an individual to the floor. The child is laid in the face-up position, according to Chang.
“The idea is to prevent the individual from hurting themselves or someone else by striking someone. There is never at any point a time where you are supposed to lay on top of the chest of the child, which we saw happen here,” Chang said.
When Cornelius began to lose consciousness, Chang said supervisors and nursing staff waited 12 minutes to call 911 or attempt CPR.
“When staff tried to lift him up, it was clear to us in watching the video he was not conscious. He fell back immediately. We know staff said they thought he was joking around, that he thought he was just laying there as an act of not wanting to listen to them,” Chang said.
She said the response of the medical professionals were deeply troubling.
Tenia Goshay, who is representing Fredericks’s estate, is requesting $100 million in damages.
After Fredericks’ death, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) launched an investigation into the facility. Officials said that the staff initiated a restraint that was “significantly disproportionate” to Fredericks’ behavior, and the facility did not follow its own restraint policy.
MDHHS has since terminated all contracts with Lakeside and has begun the legal process to revoke its license, according to a press release from the agency. At the time of the investigation, MDHHS found “10 licensing violations, including a failure to follow rules related to resident restraint and discipline,” the news release said.