A civil lawsuit filed on Monday following the death of a 16-year-old alleges that video from a Michigan youth facility recorded the black teen screaming "I can't breathe" as a staff member placed weight on his chest for nearly 10 minutes.
The lawsuit filed in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court names Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo and Sequel Youth and Family Services as defendants.
Cornelius Fredericks died on May 1 after going into cardiac arrest on April 29. At the time, authorities said he was being restrained by staff after throwing a sandwich.
His death came nearly a month before George Floyd died on May 25 in Minneapolis. Floyd died after a white officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after the handcuffed black man stopped moving and pleading for air. Floyd's dying words, "I can't breathe", have become a rallying call for people protesting police violence against black people and racial injustice during demonstrations across the US.
"The excessive use of restraints and the lack of concern for Cornelius' life draw an eerily similar comparison to that of George Floyd's death," according to the lawsuit, which alleges negligence and says Lakeside staff improperly and wrongfully used restraints on Fredericks.
The race of the staff member or members involved wasn't immediately known. The lawsuit seeks damages allowed under the Michigan Wrongful Death Act. No financial amount was specified.
State officials last week terminated contracts with Lakeside for youth in Michigan's foster care and juvenile justice systems and said all 125 youth at Lakeside were placed in other settings based on their individual needs.
"The facility also had its license to operate suspended."
Governor Gretchen Whitmer has told the state's Department of Health and Human Services to cut ties with Sequel Youth and Family Services, which provided staffing to Lakeside Academy.
At the time of Fredericks' death, Lakeside Academy officials said in a statement that what happened didn't reflect the institution's mission to "serve and care for our clients with excellence".
But Michigan's Health and Human Services department has conducted more than 30 investigations since 2016 on maintenance, staff qualifications, discipline, behaviour management, resident restraint and staff sufficiency at Lakeside Academy, the lawsuit said.
Six months prior to Fredericks' death there were six separate violations pertaining to improper use by staff of deescalation techniques, including improper restraints, according to the lawsuit, and at least eight employees were fired since 2016 due to improperly using restraints, failing to use proper deescalation techniques or improperly supervising youth.
Michigan Health and Human Services officials have said an investigation of the for-profit academy found 10 licensing violations, including a failure to follow rules related to resident restraint and discipline.