Surveillance video released Tuesday shows at least seven men holding down a Black teenager who later died at a youth facility in Michigan.
The footage released to reporters by Detroit-area attorney Geoffrey Fieger shows 16-year-old Cornelius Fredericks being pushed to the floor and held down by staff members at the Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo because he threw a sandwich in the cafeteria.
Fieger represents Fredericks’ estate in that says the boy screamed “I can’t breathe” as they restrained him for about 8 minutes on April 29. The video had no sound as it was shown to reporters.
Several of the men appear to pull on and hold down Fredericks’ arms and legs while others sit or lay atop his chest and abdomen. Toward the end of the video, the teen appears limp and falls back to the floor after some staffers attempt to sit him up. Others then move in and start CPR.
“He’s not fighting at all ... his shoes and his feet are just lying there,” Fieger said, referring to the videotape.
Fredericks went into cardiac arrest while being restrained. He was hospitalized and died two days later, authorities said. The death was ruled a homicide and the doctor who performed the autopsy said Fredericks had been asphyxiated.
In its investigation, the state of Michigan disclosed that staff members at Lakeside had also suffocated Fredericks as a form of discipline, according to Fieger.
“It is a horrific videotape and it demonstrates what other employees have told us is a culture of fear and abuse at the Lakeside facility,” Fieger said. “One employee told us that in order to work there all you needed was to be breathing and accept $13 per hour.”
“The mechanism for dealing with children in this facility was abuse and fear,” he added. “In fact, suffocation was regularly practiced upon children. They called it ‘fearing.’”
The Associated Press left a message Tuesday seeking comment from Lakeside Academy and its operator, Sequel Youth and Family Services. Lakeside and Sequel are named in the civil lawsuit.
Kalamazoo is about 140 miles (230 kilometers) west of Detroit.
Lakeside was contracted with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to care for youth in the state’s foster care and juvenile justice systems. The state said last month that it had terminated its contracts with Lakeside Academy and removed all 125 youth being housed there.
Sequel Youth and Family Services operates facilities in other states, according to Fieger.
Fredericks became the state’s responsibility following his mother’s death several years ago. At the time, his father was incarcerated.
Two male staffers and a female nurse — Michael Mosley of Battle Creek, Zachary Solis of Lansing and Heather McLogan of Kalamazoo — in Fredericks' death.
They were also fired.
Fieger said he is urging authorities to recommending charging others.
“As you can see in the video, far more than two people are involved in suffocating him,” Fieger said. “I would urge them to reconsider the other people ... who are clearly involved in the killing of Cornelius.”
Fieger said his office had a forensic examiner review the footage and that portions of the videotape are missing.
“It jumps and there suddenly people are no longer in the scene that were there one second before,” he added.