KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A Michigan justice organization called for Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo to close following the death of 16-year-old Lakeside student Cornelius Fredericks.
Fredericks died May 1, 2020, two days after he went into cardiac arrest after being restrained by a Lakeside staff member for throwing a sandwich.
“No one should lose his or her life for throwing a sandwich,” said Mary King, the executive director for the Michigan Center for Youth Justice. a nonprofit advocating a more fair and effective justice system for the state’s youths.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services launched an investigation into the facility's license after Fredericks's death.
King pointed to the death of Fredericks as a pattern and practice of abuse at facilities owned by Sequel Youth and Family Services, a for-profit company that contacts with Lakeside Academy. King has called the facility to be shuttered and for Sequel Youth to stop profiting off of kids in-need.
King said the Michigan Center for Youth Justice joined a national campaign with the National Juvenile Justice Network, which launched a petition urging governors to ban the company from serving youth.
"We know those folks involved in the restraint and the leadership at the facility have to be held accountable," said King.
Sequel Youth and Family Services contracts with 26 facilities nationwide, including two facilities in Michigan. Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo and Starr Albion prep.
King said Lakeside and Starr Albion Prep are believed to be the only two for-profit facilities for boys with behavioral problems in the state.
Since 2018, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services investigated around a dozen complaints of Lakeside staff improperly restraining students. Several allegations resulted in state violations.
Valerie Navor said her 17-year-old son left Lakeside Academy during the first full week in May 2020. Navor filed a complaint after she claims her son, who was sent to Lakeside from California, was physically abused by a group of staff members.
"Someone needs to take action on how to take care of kids. I don't want it to be swept under the rug. I need something to be done," Navor said.
Allegations of violence and sexual abuse among residents have been reported at Sequel facilities in at least three other states.
"Sequel needs to stop being in charge of confined youth in Michigan and anywhere in the United States. It's unconscionable to have for-profit facilitates running a youth rehabilitation facility," King said.
King said her organization also called for the creation of a state-level position, such as juvenile justice ombudsman, to provide greater oversight of private facilities and ensure accountability. King said her organization has reached out to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Office and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
"The conversations are what does accountability look like and what might be put in place in the future so it never happens again," King said.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Bob Wheaton said officials with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Adult and Children Services agency would be having a conversation with members of the organization May 15, 2020.
"We appreciate the concerns of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice," Wheaton said in a statement.
Following Fredericks's death on May 1, 2020, the state of Michigan and agencies from other states that placed boys in the residential school became moving those students to other facilities.
Lakeside Academy board president Jeff Palmer said four students remained on-campus as of May 14, 2020.
Wheaton said the agency's goal was to have all the students removed in a matter of days.
Lakeside Academy contracts with Sequel Youth and Family Services to provide its onsite staff. Wheaton said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Division of Child Welfare and Licensing are currently investigating the facility to determine if licensing requirements were followed. Lakeside Academy's license is held by the 501c3 Lakeside for Children.
Wheaton said the agency was not investigating Sequel Youth and Family Services.
Established as a boys orphanage in 1907, Lakeside serves as a residential rehabilitation center for troubled and abused teenage boys. In July 2007, Lakeside for Children entered into a management agreement with Sequel Youth and Family Services, who began managing the facility under the name Lakeside Academy.
Representatives from Sequel Youth and Family Services did not respond to multiple requests for a comment on this story.