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Video showing restraint of teen who later died in Kalamazoo sparks outrage, protest

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Editor's note: This story contains an edited version of a graphic video released by Fieger Law showing an incident where a teen was restrained and later died. This video has been edited to protect the identities of uninvolved minors in another part of the room. A link to the full video has been made available.

Video footage released Tuesday shows a 16-year-old boy throwing food at a Kalamazoo youth home, then being tackled and restrained for 12 minutes by seven staff members, sparking fresh outrage over the incident and his death two days later.

The 18 minutes of footage of the April 29 incident, released by attorney Geoffrey Fieger, shows staff members at Lakeside Academy pulling Cornelius Frederick up, with the teen unable to sit on his own. Staff left him lying on the floor for an unknown length of time; the video jumps forward to a man doing chest compressions on Frederick in an empty cafeteria.

Fieger's firm is representing the teen's family, which has sued the owner of the youth home, where Frederick was living as a ward of the state after his mother died. 

Fieger said the video, released to him by the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor's Office, is missing some footage.

“The video is horrific and graphic. However, it appears that portions of the video have been deleted," he said during a virtual press conference, where he played 13 minutes of footage. "We have not determined yet if Lakeside For Children is responsible for the missing footage."

In turn, an attorney for one of three academy employees charged in Frederick's death accused Fieger of leaving out footage showing events before the boy was restrained.

“What was unseen was two counselors talking to him while he’s about to throw food at another boy,” said Kiana Carolyn Garrity, who represents defendant Michael Mosley. “He was taken down because he was threatening another boy."

Cornelius Frederick

The teen's family suit against the school and the company that owns it, Sequel Youth Services, seeks $100 million, alleging negligence. The lawsuit alleges staff sat on his chest as he screamed that he couldn't breathe. The video footage released Tuesday does not have audio.

School security officers are seen crowding around the boy right before tackling him to the ground.

Late Tuesday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released two surveillance videos from the incident that it said were provided by the youth home. The 17-minute and 27-minute videos contain footage from different cameras.

The department's Division of Child Welfare Licensing completed an investigation of Lakeside that found 10 licensing violations, including a failure to follow rules related to resident restraint and discipline.

The state has begun the legal process to revoke the facility’s license. The state also began an overhaul of its policies governing the use of restraints and the oversight of child-caring institutions, officials said.

“The incident shown in the videos is outrageous and heartbreaking. We have vowed to do everything in our power to prevent a senseless tragedy like this from happening again,” said department director Robert Gordon.

Sequel Youth Services said in a statement to The Detroit News that the company mourns the "senseless and tragic loss of Cornelius" and that the actions taken by staff members do not adhere to its policies.

The company said it emphasizes de-escalation with both staff and students and allows the use of restraints only in an emergency situation when a student is a danger to themselves or others.

"Otherwise, a restraint is not an appropriate first response, and restraints are never to be used as a means of coercion, discipline, convenience or retaliation by staff," Sequel said.

Frederick was placed at the facility two years ago after his mother died in her sleep at age 32. Neither his father nor other family was able to provide care for him, Fieger said.

His hometown is unknown as information about youth is confidential under the Michigan Child Protection Law and the Child Care Organizations Act and remains confidential after someone has died, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The case drew wide condemnation and led to the cancellation of a state contract with the facility. The family's lawsuit says the incident was "eerily similar" to the case of George Floyd, who died in Minnesota after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes May 25 as he cried out that he couldn't breathe. 

Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Kalamazoo Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting announced charges against Mosley, Zachary Solis and Heather McLogan almost eight weeks after Frederick's death on May 1. The three turned themselves in and were arraigned on July 1 in Kalamazoo County District Court. Bonds were set at $500,000.

Mosley, of Battle Creek, and Solis, of Lansing, face the same charges: homicide and involuntary manslaughter, a 15-year felony; second-degree child abuse, a 10-year felony; and child abuse, second-degree child care organization violation, a 10-year felony.

McLogan, a nurse at Lakeside who called 911, was charged with two offenses: involuntary manslaughter for alleged gross negligence for failure to perform or timely seek medical care for Frederick, a 15-year felony; and second-degree child abuse, a 10-year felony.

The state terminated its contracts with Lakeside Academy for youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system last month. All 125 youths at Lakeside were placed elsewhere, the state said.

A 16-year-old boy is seen unconscious on the ground after being tackled and restrained by school staffers.

The video

Two dozen teenagers in the cafeteria witnessed the incident as they ate lunch. At one point early in the video, young men are seen moving their seats to avoid watching the scene.

An investigation by the state  found that seven people were involved in holding Frederick down while a nurse watched.

While being suffocated, Frederick urinated on himself, his shoes were off and he was lying on his back, Fieger said. 

There are several spots in the video where the frames jump, indicating moments are missing; it's unclear how much time elapsed in those instances. 

You can download and watch the full video here - CONTENT WARNING: This video contains disturbing images

Frederick suffered irreversible brain damage and was placed on life support.

Garrity, the attorney for defendant Mosley, said the footage Fieger released leaves out the events leading up to the boy being restrained.

She said that before Frederick threw two sandwiches, he had been taunting another boy, whom he had previously attacked in the dormitory.

Garrity said two counselors jumped in to prevent a further incident, but Frederick continued to threaten the other boy, who was sitting at a separate table.

"He was restrained for threatening that child he already physically assaulted to prevent an imminent physical assault on other children, which he was known to do … not to mention he’s 312 pounds," Garrity said.

The footage sparked outrage among civil rights activists and children's advocates.

Majyck Raydo, president of Promise Advocacy for Children Community Transformation, a Kalamazoo-based organization, said watching the video moved her to organize a demonstration planned for Wednesday morning outside Kalamazoo District Court.

"I watched the video this morning and I cried," she said. "Just as a mother, I felt outraged. I was helpless and I could see my child there. So I had to use my skills as an organizer. To see that video and not be able to do anything in real-time, I feel an obligation to Cornelius and his family to bring him justice."

Fieger called on the state to pass stricter laws on the privatization of youth facilities that are run by for-profit ventures handling "institutionalized children who have no choice in the matter."

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger released a 10-minute portion of the video Cornelius Frederick, 16.

Fieger said this was not an isolated occurrence.

"The main goal of this place was the bottom line ... and the children were ruled by fear." 

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_