KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The family of Cornelius Fredericks, who was restrained at Lakeside Academy in late April and died a few days later, filed a civil rights lawsuit at Kalamazoo County circuit courts on Monday.
“I just want to know why this happened to my nephew,” said Fredericks’ aunt Tenia Goshay during a virtual press conference. “I’m pretty sure it could’ve been avoided. I just need answers and some justice for my nephew. We loved him very very much.”
Goshay sat next to Jon Marko of Jon Marko Law in Detroit during the presser. Marko has been representing the family since May and has since done his own investigation.
Marko said Fredericks ‘was restrained to death in an action that, from all the evidence, appear similar to how George Floyd was murdered.’
“The evidence that we have and based on the investigation from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is that he was sat on similar to how George Floyd was restrained for 10 minutes,” Marko said. “During that time he was screaming that he couldn’t breathe.”
Marko said on April 29, Fredericks threw a sandwich on the ground which led to the the 16-year-old being restrained.
Kalamazoo police said in a statement in early May that when they arrived they found Fredericks ‘unresponsive.’ He was in cardiac arrest.
“According to the information we have from MDHHS, they waited 12 minutes in order to get Cornelius help. They waited 12 minutes to do anything about it,” Marko said. “Cornelius was brought to the hospital. It was found out he also had COVID from the facility and he passed away.”
Marko and the family have tried to get answers from Lakeside Academy and their parent company Sequel Youth and Family services, he said.
Sequel began operating Lakeside in 2007, he said.
Marko added that they haven’t given him a single document he’s asked for.
“Since 2016 there has been at least 30 violations investigated by MDHHS,” Marko said. “So let’s put that in perspective. In a little less than five years, 30 violations have been investigated just at this one Sequel facility.”
Marko said he doesn’t know if the violations involve restraints. However, it’s something his firm is looking into.
Over the weekend, MDHHS suspended Lakeside's license. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released a statement saying in part:
“Protecting our most vulnerable is a top priority of my administration, and the senseless death of a youth at Lakeside for Children in Kalamazoo is intolerable and heartbreaking. We will take steps to prevent tragedies like this from occurring in the future and make sure there is accountability.
Marko said that’s something the state should’ve done a long time ago.
“We’re seeking justice for the family,” Marko said. “We’re seeking answers for the family. We want to make sure that this never happens again.”