Video of the fatal restraint of a 16-year-old at a Kalamazoo youth home was released Tuesday by attorney Geoffrey Fieger. Cornelius Fredericks died about 30 hours after he was restrained by seven staff members for 12 minutes at Lakeside Academy on April 29.
His death has led to the state taking away Lakeside's license, criminal charges against three staff members and a $100 million lawsuit brought on behalf of the family by Fieger and Detroit-based attorney Jon Marko. Fredericks was living at the youth home as a ward of the state after his mother died in her sleep.
Fieger said during press briefing Tuesday they received the video from the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor's Office who got it from the Michigan Attorney General. He claimed Sequel Youth & Family Services and Lakeside tried to negotiate with the law firm to not release the tape in exchange for a payment and confidentiality.
"Because he was in Kalamazoo and he was a child who had no parents, so they said 'why don't we just pay you less than a million dollars and we'll keep this all secret,'" Fieger said about Lakeside and its parent company. "It's intolerable, intolerable that this has gone on."
The video that Fieger received and released was edited, and the attorney said there are portions that are missing. He said he doesn't believe the prosecutor's office cut the video, but his firm is having a forensics team look at the file.
Warning: The video of the restraint is graphic and contains distressing content.
The video confirms some of the details released by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' investigation, which determined Fredericks was restrained after throwing a sandwich at another boy. The video shows two staff members stand up and talk to Fredericks for about two minutes before he throws more bread and gets pinned to the ground. State investigators said at least one staff member was lying across his chest, and Fieger said the teen cried out "I can't breathe" during the restraint. However, the video provided had no audio.
Because the video was cut, it doesn't show the full length of time Fredericks was restrained. The state investigation determined he was held to the ground for 12 minutes in what they called an "unsafe" and "excessive" restraint. After staff released him, no one called 911 for 12 minutes, and for an additional 15 minutes no one started life saving measures, the state said.
However, in the video, staff can be seen lifting him up after being released and his arms and legs are limp. Then portions of the video show Fredericks lying on the ground while staff members look over him. Eventually, they start CPR. The video ends before first responders arrive.
"Cornelius Fredericks did nothing. He's a child. He threw a sandwich. And he was executed on videotape," said Fieger.
Two of the men involved in the restraint, Michael Mosley and Zachary Solis, are facing manslaughter charges, but Fieger said he is urging the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor to issue charges against the other staff members involved. The nurse on duty, Heather McLogan, has also been charged with manslaughter.
Fieger calls the video "horrific" and said the death of Fredericks is indicative of a culture of fear and abuse at Lakeside, alongside other issues within Sequel Youth & Family Services. The lawsuit mentions that after Fredericks was hospitalized, it was learned he was positive for COVID-19. It also alleges that after the teen died, staff at Lakeside used tear gas on the other boys at the facility.
"The children were ruled by fear. One employee, and we actually have this in writing, referred to the Lakeside for Children school as Death Row Academy. And it's truly frightening," said Fieger. "I mean these children aren't criminals. They're not accused of any crime. Cornelius didn't have parents. He was a child. And he was brutalized in that fashion. It's unbelievable."
Fieger claims that suffocation was a form of discipline at Lakeside, and the state investigation discovered another incident with Fredericks in January in which he was restrained for several minutes. Ultimately, Fieger is aiming to bring attention to the issues within these youth facilities.
"I don't know what it takes in America to have a shock wave go through this country and say, 'this is not a unique situation. This is not an isolated occurrence. This is going on every day, somewhere in America,'" said Fieger.
Sequel Youth & Family Services operates youth behavioral facilities across the country, but attorneys for Fredericks and a state senator in Oregon all contend the company has a problematic history.
"The privatization of these facilities that are run for profit and institutionalized children who have no choice in the matter are being treated as commodities and not as human beings," said Fieger.
Oregon State Sen. Sara Gelser attended the digital press briefing. She has been highlighting issues within privatized foster care since late last year, with a focus on Sequel. She asked if Fieger has been able to get videos of other restraints. He said they are still in discovery, but that these issues span into other states.
In a statement Sequel said they continue to mourn the death of Fredericks. They said the actions taken by the staff in the video do not adhere to their policies.
"Further, those actions are not representative of our core values of accountability, humility, and integrity. We take our obligation to meet the significant behavioral health needs of all our students very seriously and strive to improve the lives of those in our programs by providing excellence in clinical care, therapy, education, and support," the statement read in part.
Sequel also said they emphasize deescalation with staff and students, and it's their policy to use restraint when a student could endanger 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," the statement said
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.