Newly released surveillance footage shows seven staffers at a Michigan youth home tackling and fatally restraining Cornelius Fredericks, a 16-year-old Black boy, for about 12 minutes after he threw food across the facility’s cafeteria.
The teen went into cardiac arrest and died two days after the April 29 incident.
The boy’s family referenced the video when they sued the Kalamazoo-based youth home, Lakeside Academy, and the company that manages it, Sequel Youth and Family Services, last month. While three staffers involved in Fredericks’ restraint — one of whom is a nurse accused of taking too long to call for medical care — have since been charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse, attorney Goeffrey Fieger told the Associated Press that’s not enough, and that more employees should be charged based on the video.
His office released one angle of the surveillance video Tuesday, or about 18 minutes of footage. After that, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) followed up by releasing two other surveillance videos: one with nearly 28 minutes of footage, and one with about 17 minutes of footage.
“The mechanism for dealing with children in this facility was abuse and fear,” Fieger, a well-known attorney in metro Detroit, told the Associated Press. “In fact, suffocation was regularly practiced upon children. They called it ‘fearing.’”
Fredericks was at Lakeside Academy as a ward of the state, since his mother had died when he was young.
The video released by Fieger’s office Tuesday shows Lakeside staff taking away Fredericks’ tray after he threw food. While Fredericks was talking to two staff members in the cafeteria, he tossed more food across the room. A staffer pushed him to the ground. At that point, Fredericks chucked a sandwich, too. Several male employees then toppled Fredericks and pinned down his chest, arms, and legs, obscuring his body from view, while other teens in the video continued eating or changed seats. Some told Michigan investigators that such restraints were common.
Once Fredericks was apparently unconscious, staffers attempted to place his limp body into an upright position, according to the video. They stood around him as he lay on the cafeteria floor before performing chest compressions. While the video doesn’t contain audio, attorneys for Fredericks’ family have alleged he screamed “I can’t breathe” before he fell unconscious. Fieger said Fredericks also urinated on himself.
Fieger has said the footage released Tuesday is incomplete and appears to jump around at times. The state said the videos they released were provided by Lakeside. Lawyers for the arrested staff members have similarly said the videos don’t provide a complete account of the events that led to Fredericks’ death.
The state said Tuesday that 125 kids have been removed from Lakeside as a result of an investigation that uncovered 10 licensing violations. The MDHHS has cut ties with the facility while it works to revoke its license.
“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,” Robert Gordon, director of MDHHS, said in a statement making the surveillance footage public.
Sequel Youth Services, which runs similar facilities across the U.S., told the Detroit News that the employees’ actions were against the company's policies. The company told VICE News last month that the employees involved were fired, and that restraints were only allowed in emergency situations.
Three of those employees — Zachary Solis, Michael Mosley, and Heather McLogan — were also criminally charged by Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting last month. Their attorneys told NBC News that they disagreed with the charges.
Kiana Garrity, an attorney for Mosley, said that it was wrong of Fieger to release the video Tuesday, and that there’s “loads of context” that the public is unaware of regarding the surveillance footage.
She said in an email that there are four surveillance cameras in the cafeteria, and that the two she has received footage from show no evidence that Mosley laid on Fredericks’ chest or abdomen. Additionally, she said that the video released by Fieger Tuesday doesn’t show that Fredericks had threatened those around him the day he was restrained. He was held down for those threats, and not simply because he threw food, she said. She also said it’s false that Fredericks said he couldn’t breathe.
The attorney for McLogan, a nurse at the facility, told CNN she had done nothing criminal. And Solis’ attorney told NBC News that they were all following rules outlined in their employee handbook, and would be acquitted.
Cover: Screen shot from surveillance video posted by attorney Goeffrey Fieger's office