Three staff members at the facility were fired and charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse

By Benjamin VanHoose
June 26, 2020 08:53 AM
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A 16-year-old boy has died "because of restraints wrongly applied" by employees at his residential treatment facility, officials say.

On May 1, Cornelius Fredericks died after suffering cardiac arrest when, days earlier, staff members forcibly restrained him at the Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, Michigan, according to a lawsuit obtained by CNN. The facility provides behavioral health services to teens.

The lawsuit — asking for $100 million in damages under Fredericks' estate — reportedly claims that Fredericks threw a sandwich at someone and employees responded with "improper restraint" on April 29.

In a statement, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced that it will no longer allow "physical restraints like the ones that cost this young man his life." An investigation found that the restraints used were "significantly disproportionate to Fredericks' behavior."

"On May 1, a young man died because of restraints wrongly applied at a facility licensed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS)," Director Robert Gordon said. "It was a tragedy and an outrage. We cannot bring this young man back to life, but we will not rest until we have changed the system that allowed his death. ... We are committed to bringing needed change."

MDHHS also said it will reform its policies for childcare institutions in order to "address challenges before they become tragedies," as well as take steps to revoke the licensing for Lakeside Academy.

According to CBS News, medical examiners ruled the death a homicide, saying Fredericks died from "restraint asphyxia." On Wednesday, three Lakeside Academy employees were charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse.

In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, Sequel Youth & Family Services, which owns Lakeside Academy, said, "We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Cornelius and acted quickly to terminate all staff involved. Additionally, we have removed the former executive director of Lakeside from the organization."

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"We have been in regular contact with law enforcement and state officials to help ensure justice is served and have accelerated the work that was already underway across our organization to move to a restraint-free model of care," the statement continued. "We take our obligation to meet the significant behavioral health needs of all our students incredibly seriously and remain focused on our mission of providing the absolute best care and treatment possible for our clients."

Sequel also addressed the criminal charges filed against the employees involved and said: "We strongly support the decision of the prosecutor’s office to bring criminal charges, which was based on a very thorough law enforcement investigation. We will continue to fully cooperate throughout this process to ensure justice is served. This was a tragic and senseless incident. Additionally, we are committed to making the necessary changes to ensure something like this never happens again within our organization."

If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.