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3 Children's Home Staffers Charged In Death Of 16-Year-Old

Three former staff members of a Michigan youth home have been charged in the death of a 16-year-old Black boy. He died last month after employees sat on his chest, abdomen and legs in an effort to restrain him.

An autopsy report released Wednesday by the Kalamazoo medical examiner's office ruled the suffocation death of Cornelius Fredericks a homicide. The examination revealed it was the result of "restraint asphyxia," caused by multiple people using their weight to pin the boy down.

Fredericks was apparently held down by the staffers for about 12 minutes after throwing a piece of bread on the floor at Lakeside Academy where he lived, according to an investigation by state officials.

An attorney for his family said Fredericks repeatedly cried, "I can't breathe."

When he became unresponsive, the state investigation found, employees at the home — which houses children in foster care or the juvenile justice system — failed to perform CPR and waited another 12 minutes to call for medical assistance.

Thirty hours later, Fredericks suffered a heart attack and died in hospital on May 1.

As Michigan Radio reports:

"[Michael Mosley and Zachary Solis] are facing homicide charges of involuntary manslaughter charges (felonies that carry up to 15 years) as well as two second degree child abuse charges, each carrying up to 10 years. [Heather] McLogan is facing involuntary manslaughter and one charge of child abuse."

Fredericks became a ward of the state after his mother died in her sleep and his "father wasn't in a place where he was able to take care of Cornelius and the family wasn't able to take care of him," Jonathan Marko, an attorney representing Fredericks' family toldThe Detroit News.

The boy's family is suing Lakeside Academy and its parent company for $100 million, alleging negligence.

"Cornelius' scream of 'I can't breathe' was not enough to get the staff members to stop the excessive restraint," Marko said.

According to the complaint filed Monday, "The [state] Department of Health and Human Services has a laundry list of complaints that it has investigated and addressed regarding employees of the defendants improperly managing situations with residents at Lakeside Academy."

Geoffrey Fieger, another attorney working for the family, says the owners of Lakeside Academy, Sequel Youth Services, has refused to share a video of the incident.

"It is time for the perpetrators to come clean," Fieger said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Sequel says it cannot comment on pending legal matters. "That said, we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Cornelius and acted quickly to terminate all staff involved," the company said in a statement.

"We strongly support the decision of the prosecutor's office to bring criminal charges, which was based on a very thorough law enforcement investigation," the statement said. "This was a tragic and senseless incident."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.