A Year Is Long Enough To Gather Evidence In Restraint Death Case,
Boy's Family Says
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 23, 2004
KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN--An attorney representing the family of Michael Renner-Lewis III says that Kalamazoo County Prosecutor James Gregart has "more than enough evidence" to file criminal charges over the 15-year-old's restraint-related death.
"It has been close to a year and there has not been any prosecution," attorney Carey Whitfield, who is also legal redress chairman for the Kalamazoo Metropolitan NAACP, told the Kalamazoo Gazette.
"Prosecutor Gregart now has a choice to make."
At the end of last month, police asked the prosecutor to consider criminal charges in the case. Details of the requests, and names of those who might be charged with a crime, were not made public.
Michael, who had autism, died on August 25, 2003 -- the first day of school at Parchment High.
School officials said he had a seizure early in the day. He recovered from the seizure, but soon became "agitated". Four staff members "tried to quiet" the 6-foot, 165-pound teen by restraining him on his stomach. Each grabbed one of his limbs and sat down on the floor next to him in a room behind the school auditorium, police said.
At some point Michael closed his eyes and stopped breathing. A family caregiver who arrived to take Michael home found him unconscious on the floor. She started giving Michael CPR, but was not able to revive him.
An initial autopsy report showed "no obvious anatomical causes" of death. Final autopsy results, however, list Michael's cause of death as "prolonged physical restraint in prone position associated with extreme mental and motor agitation."
"He was surrounded by all the people that were supposed to help him," Whitfield said last week.
On August 13, Gregart said the investigation is not yet complete, and that he is waiting for results of toxicology tests before making a decision.
The family is suing the Parchment School District, Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency and their employees for assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, gross negligence and violation of Lewis' constitutional rights. A trial date of April 5, 2005 has been set in U.S. District Court for the suit, which seeks $25 million.
Michael's death prompted a state representative to draft the "Michael Renner Lewis III Law" for the Michigan Legislature. The measure would change state education codes to allow students to be restrained only "in an emergency to control unpredictable, spontaneous behavior . . . that poses a clear and present danger of serious physical harm to that pupil or others."
The law would require all restraints to be performed by teachers, staff members and administrators that have received in-depth training on physical restraint techniques.
Certain techniques, such as restraining students face-down on the floor or ground, and using drugs as sedatives, would be outlawed entirely.
Parents would also have to consent to restraints that would be used on their children.
"The Death of Michael Renner-Lewis III" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)