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Estate sues for $50M over teen's death at Kalamazoo youth home

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

The family of a 16-year-old who died after being restrained by staff at Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo last year has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the school and its management company, alleging staffers suffocated and killed him, and violated his constitutional rights.

The federal lawsuit by a relative of Cornelius Frederick comes more than 17 months after the teenager suffered a heart attack while authorities said he was being restrained for throwing a sandwich.

The death led to criminal charges against three people and prompted state officials to terminate contracts with Lakeside Academy for youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system. All 125 youth at Lakeside were placed elsewhere, state officials said.

Cornelius Frederick

The lawsuit seeks $50 million from Lakeside, its parent company Sequel TSI Holdings and others, and alleges Frederick's civil rights were violated when staffers sat on his chest as he yelled "I can't breathe." Staff members refused to render aid while he was left on the floor, and family attorney Geoffrey Fieger on Thursday said Frederick's death was not an isolated incident.

“Torture was the method by which the children were supervised," Fieger said in a statement. "This was not an isolated occurrence. It had happened dozens of times. Why did it take the killing of Cornelius to finally shut down this hell hole?"

Video in the death of Cornelius Frederick, 16, who was restrained by a Kalamazoo staff for allegedly throwing a sandwich.

According to the lawsuit, staffers acted with deliberate indifference to Frederick's "serious medical needs, personal safety, and general welfare."

Sandra Lealofi, listed in state business records as Lakeside's chief executive, could not be reached for comment immediately Thursday.

Last year, after Frederick's death, Sequel issued a statement that read: "We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Cornelius and acted quickly to terminate all staff involved. Additionally, we have removed the former executive director of Lakeside from the organization.

"We have been in regular contact with law enforcement and state officials to help ensure justice is served and have accelerated the work that was already underway across our organization to move to a restraint-free model of care."

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