‘I Can’t Breathe’: Youth Facility Employees Charged After Black Child Dies of ‘Restraint Asphyxia’

Illustration for article titled ‘I Can’t Breathe’: Youth Facility Employees Charged After Black Child Dies of ‘Restraint Asphyxia’
Photo: Marko Law

Nearly a dozen staff members were fired from a childcare facility in Kalamazoo, Mich., after a 16-year-old Black boy died while employees at the facility used their full body weight to pin him to the floor—all because he threw a piece of bread at another student. Now, three of those staff members are charged with crimes in connection to his death.

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BuzzFeed News reports that Cornelius Fredericks was physically restrained at private residential youth facility Lakeside Academy on April 29 by two staff members who held him down for more than ten minutes while he screamed, “I can’t breathe,” (sound familiar?) according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Fredericks’ estate on Monday. Fredericks fell unconscious and was left lying on the ground “limp and unresponsive” for another 12 minutes before someone finally called 911. On May 1, he died at a local hospital from “restraint asphyxia,” according to the Kalamazoo County Medical Examiner, who ruled Fredricks’ death a homicide.

All of this started because Fredericks threw bread at another child. A staff member who saw him do it reportedly pushed him out of his seat and started to restrain him. That alone should never have happened because the state requires a supervisor be notified before taking that kind of action, according to a report by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

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“Throwing bread is not a demonstration of imminent threat of harm to self or others and did not warrant physical management,” the report reads. “Staff 1 initiated restraint of Resident A without justification as Resident A was observed sitting on the floor after being pushed from his seat. This is not in line with SCM policy for least restrictive alternatives.”

Despite the initial restraint being against state regulations, multiple staff members rushed to assist in holding Fredericks down. On Wednesday, prosecutors filed charges against those “most closely responsible for Cornelius’s death,” and said it’s possible that charges for other staff members may follow.

From BuzzFeed:

Two of the staff members, Michael Mosley, 47, and Zachary Solis, 28, were charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter for restraining the boy in a grossly negligent manner, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, as well as two second-degree child abuse charges, punishable by up to 10 years.

Heather McLogan, 48, a nurse at the facility, was charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of second-degree child abuse for failing to seek timely medical care for Fredericks.

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According to a spokesperson for Lakeside Academy, ten employees, including the three who are charged, and the facility’s executive director were all fired over the incident and the state also suspended the facility’s license. All of the other children were removed from Lakeside while the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services investigated Fredericks’ death.

“We strongly support the decision of the prosecutor’s office to bring criminal charges, which was based on a very thorough law enforcement investigation,” Lakeside said in a statement. “We will continue to fully cooperate throughout this process to ensure justice is served. This was a tragic and senseless incident.”

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Marko Law, the Michigan Civil Rights law firm that is handling the lawsuit on behalf of Fredericks’ estate, sent a press release to The Root announcing the filing “against Lakeside Academy and Sequel Youth and Family Services” on Monday.

On April 29, 2020 Cornelius Fredericks, a young, black male, was wrongly and improperly placed in a restraint by staff members at Lakeside Academy. The staff used the restraint in response to Cornelius throwing a sandwich in the facility’s cafeteria. Video from the facility shows that at least one staff member placed his/her weight directly on Cornelius’s chest for nearly ten minutes as Cornelius lost consciousness. Cornelius screamed “I can’t breathe” in his last moments of life, but it was not enough to stop the horrific act.

The conduct of the Lakeside Academy staff was not only improper, but clearly excessive in nature. However, the reckless and negligent conduct of the staff members did not end there. Despite the presence of supervisors and nursing staff, and despite the fact that Cornelius was limp and unresponsive, the employees waited twelve minutes before calling 911. Upon arriving at Bronson Methodist Hospital, Cornelius was immediately placed on life support. On May 1, 2020, only thirty hours after entering cardiac arrest as a result of the excessive restraint, Cornelius Fredericks died at Bronson Hospital.

The death of Cornelius Fredericks occurred only a month before a similar death of George Floyd. Floyd, also a black male, died as the result of police officers kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes. Floyd’s screams of “I can’t breathe,” were also not enough to prevent his death from the excessive force used by the officers.

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The press release also noted that at the hospital “it was also discovered that Cornelius was positive for Coronavirus. Despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic took control of the world at the beginning of 2020, Lakeside Academy failed to properly respond in order to ensure the safety of its staff and residents. Only after Cornelius tested positive for coronavirus at Bronson Hospital was it discovered that almost forty other residents and nine staff members of Lakeside Academy were also positive.”

Attorney Jon Marko said there were “complaints of problems with Sequel and Lakeside for years and nobody seemed to listen. It’s sad it took the death of this young boy in order to bring this about. It shouldn’t have come this far. Cornelius shouldn’t have had to die for people to wake up.”

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

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DISCUSSION

A group of people... murdered a child... over a FUCKING SANDWICH?!? Then they left his body sitting on the ground for 12 minutes before they called 911 and they are only getting charged with fucking manslaughter??? The whole judicial system needs to be torn down.

RIP Cornelius, you deserved better.