Renner-Lewis Family Sues School Over Son's Restraint Death
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 2, 2004
KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN--Last week, the family of Michael Renner-Lewis III filed a $25 million "wrongful death" lawsuit against officials and employees of the school where he died this summer.
According to local media reports, the suit is against the Parchment School District, Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency and several employees, including the principal. Family lawyers allege that the 15-year-old, who had autism, died because he could not breath while staff members had him pinned to the ground on his stomach.
When Michael became "agitated" in the early afternoon of the first day of school, August 25, at least four staff members "tried to quiet" him by holding him face-down on the floor. A family caregiver who arrived at the school to take Michael home found him unconscious. She started giving Michael CPR, but was too late to revive him.
An initial autopsy report showed "no obvious anatomical causes" of death. His death was ruled an accident, and no criminal charges were filed.
The final autopsy report listed the cause of his death as "prolonged physical restraint in prone position associated with extreme mental and motor agitation." Dr. Richard Tooker, Kalamazoo County chief medical examiner, said a contributing factor in Michael's death was an "underlying heart abnormality."
"A combination of the restraint and the underlying heart ailment was, unfortunately, a fatal combination," Tooker said.
The suit claims that the 6-foot, 165-pound teen had fainted and that school officials did not know how to handle the situation so they forced him to the ground on his stomach for at least one hour.
"I think it's clear that this is what happened in this case," said family attorney Paul Broschay. "Michael didn't just sit on the floor and die. He was held down to the floor by several people. If that's not a homicide, I don't know what is."
"You don't keep someone face down on their gut with a knee in their back for an hour," Broschay added. "Animals are treated better than that."
Broschay is with the law firm headed by Geoffrey Fieger, the personal-injury attorney that represented "assisted suicide" promoter Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
"The Death of Michael Renner-Lewis III" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)