Suit alleges baby's remains lost, used as paperweight

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News
Naveed Syed, owner of the building that once housed the Cantrell Funeral Home, shows the location where the remains of 11 infants were found hidden in a ceiling compartment.

The parents of a stillborn infant identified as "Baby Boy Ellis" filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging their baby's remains were misplaced by Ascension St. John Hospital, stored in a Tupperware-like container and then left for years on a desk at Cantrell Funeral Home and used as a paperweight while awaiting burial.

Erika Hinson called the hospital "over and over" following the stillbirth of her child on Jan. 30, 2014, and received only "excuses" about why the baby's remains couldn't be released for burial, according to the lawsuit filed in Wayne County Circuit Court. 

More:Requests flood funeral home handling Cantrell remains

"Three months later it was discovered that hospital staff had the audacity to place the baby in a Tupperware like container and then erroneously lost it," the suit alleges. 

In a written statement Tuesday, St. John Hospital and Medical Center responded: "We have been made aware of this lawsuit and have no comment at this time." 

After the "catastrophic emotional devastating discovery" (sic) of the hospital's handling of the remains, the Hinsons made arrangements with Cantrell Funeral Home on April 19, 2014, to prepare the baby's remains for burial, according to the complaint.

Southgate attorney Bill Colovos, who is representing the Hinsons, said the couple couldn't afford the cost of a funeral, so funeral home owner Annetta Cantrell agreed to hold the baby's remains while the Hinsons made payments. 

"The Hinsons made some payments, and then (Annetta Cantrell) said 'the baby's being taken care of, when it's paid for we'll have the baby buried,'" Colovos said Tuesday.

The baby still hadn't been buried by May 30, 2017, when Annetta Cantrell signed ownership of the funeral home over to her stepson, Raymond E. Cantrell II, Colovos added.

Efforts to reach the Cantrells were unsuccessful Wednesday.

On April 25 of this year, the funeral home was raided by the Michigan Department of Regulatory Affairs.

According to the lawsuit, state inspectors discovered the Tupperware-like box containing the Hinson baby's remains on Raymond Cantrell's desk, seemingly being used as a paperweight. LARA spokesman Jason Moon wouldn't confirm whether or not the baby's remains were among bodies discovered during the raid.  

According to Colovos, failure to properly dispose of a body within six months is a felony in Michigan. 

The lawsuit seeks in excess of $10 million for the defendants' "extreme and outrageous conduct as well as the lack of dignity to Plaintiff's beloved baby's remains." 

"The baby sat there for three years under the ownership of Annetta Cantrell, and then under the ownership of Raymond Cantrell for another year," Colovos said. "We're talking about four years. That's insane. That isn't human."

Twitter: @kbouffardDN