At least six staff members at a Michigan youth facility restrained a Black teenager until he lost consciousness, security camera video of the fatal incident released Tuesday shows.
Cornelius Frederick, 16, died in a hospital two days after staff members at Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, which houses children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, tackled Cornelius and restrained him for 12 minutes, allegedly for throwing a sandwich. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
The video, which does not include audio, shows that immediately after Cornelius threw the sandwich at another teen in the cafeteria on April 29, a staff member took him out of his seat and onto the floor. For the next several minutes, at least six staff members held Cornelius on the ground, the video shows. After releasing him, staff members are seen trying to resuscitate him before the video clip ends.
Last month, the Kalamazoo County prosecutor charged staff members Zachary Raul Solis, 28, and Michael Joshua Mosley, 47, with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse for their part in the restraint. The prosecutor also charged Heather Newton McLogan, 48, a nurse, with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse, alleging that she failed to seek timely medical care; she did not call 911 until 12 minutes after the restraint ended.
The three staff members who were charged have not yet entered pleas, but their attorneys have indicated that they intend to fight the prosecutions.
Cornelius' family filed a civil lawsuit against Lakeside Academy and Sequel Youth and Family Services, which operates the facility, on June 22, seeking damages. The family's attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, said he obtained security video of the restraint from the prosecutor's office.
At least three of the male staff members who “improperly restrained” Cornelius were over 6 feet tall and weighed 215 pounds or more, according to a June 17 state investigation report, which concluded that Lakeside Academy failed to follow state licensing rules on restraints.
Staff members told state investigators that Cornelius threatened to attack them when they released him from the restraint. However, the family's lawsuit says that Cornelius was already struggling and that he said "I can't breathe" while he was restrained. After releasing Cornelius, staff members tried to sit him up, but his body fell back limp, the video shows. Cornelius urinated on himself during the restraint, Fieger said Tuesday.
"Unless you shine a light on insects and maggots, they proliferate," Fieger told reporters on a teleconference call Tuesday. "Certainly this type of behavior is not human. It can only be akin to a subhuman-type species that would inflict this behavior on children."
Sequel fired 10 employees of Lakeside Academy, including the three facing criminal charges.
Do you have a story to share about facilities for at-risk youth? Contact us.
In a statement, Sequel called Cornelius' death "senseless and tragic" and said, "The actions taken by the staff members in that video do not adhere to the Sequel and Lakeside Academy policies and procedures." The statement added that Lakeside Academy staff members were trained in the company's de-escalation techniques and that restraints should be used only when children are threats to themselves or others. A restraint "is not an appropriate first response," Sequel said.
Sequel declined to comment on the litigation.
No one answered the phone Tuesday at Lakeside Academy. All residents were removed from the facility following Cornelius’ death.
Kiana Garrity, an attorney for Mosley, said the video does not show that Cornelius made threats against his peers before throwing food. "They did not restrain him for throwing food as alleged," Garrity said. "That's a made-up narrative by Lakeside. They're lying through their teeth to cover their policies."
Donald Sappanos, an attorney for Solis, said all three staff members would be acquitted because they followed the rules in the employee handbook.
Anastase Markou, McLogan's lawyer, said his client is the only one who called 911 and that she is being blamed because she waited too long. "She's been accused of not doing something based on some form of legal duty, which I'm still trying to decide what legal duty she had," Markou said.
McLogan told state investigators that she initially thought Cornelius was "faking" his loss of consciousness. Video shows McLogan performing CPR on Cornelius before paramedics arrived.
The restraint lasted 12 minutes, a state investigation found, but the video shows only 8 minutes of it. Fieger said he does not know why the video is incomplete and contains jump cuts, but his office is having a digital forensic examiner review the file. Fieger said he had to get a copy of the video from the prosecutor's office because Sequel would release it only if he agreed not to share it with the public.
"They're very worried about their financial impact," Fieger said. "I've seen zero concern from them in terms of the abuse of children."
Sequel did not respond to Fieger's statement about the video.
When paramedics arrived, they gave Cornelius several doses of epinephrine, and he regained a pulse. But his condition declined after he was taken to a hospital, and he died May 1, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The video shows that many other youths watched staff members restrain Cornelius while they continued to eat their lunches for several minutes, until staff members began directing them to leave the room.
Cornelius was placed at Lakeside Academy as a ward of the state after his mother died and the state deemed his father unable to care for him. Unlike some of the other children housed there, he was not involved in the juvenile justice system.
An NBC News investigation last year found that multiple children have complained that staff members at Sequel-run facilities in other states used inappropriate physical restraints to control children, in some cases resulting in loss of consciousness. A former staffer at a Sequel facility in Iowa told NBC News that she saw staff members use improper and physically abusive restraints on children throughout the approximately seven months she worked there.
Sequel said last year that it would begin using a trauma-informed approach to crisis management that minimizes the use of restraint at all of its facilities nationwide.
Following Cornelius' death, the company said in a statement, "We have accelerated the work that was already underway across our organization to move to a restraint-free model of care at every Sequel program."
The Department of Health and Human Services moved to revoke Lakeside Academy's license following Cornelius' death. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has asked the department to ensure that Sequel no longer works with the state.
CORRECTION (July 22, 2020, 6:05 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled Cornelius Frederick’s last name. People who knew Cornelius disagree over the spelling, but the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which had custody of him, says his last name was Frederick, not Fredericks.