Autism Society And Michigan P&A Sue School Over Teen's Restraint
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 24, 2005
KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN--The Autism Society of Michigan and the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Parchment School District over the restraint-related death of 15-year-old Michael Renner-Lewis III.
The advocacy groups want a federal court to order the school to implement rules regarding restraint techniques and to train school staff on how and when to use or not use restraints.
The suit was filed on May 2, less than a week after the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor's Office said it would not press charges in the boy's death because the county medical examiner ruled it an accident.
Michael, who had autism, died on August 25, 2003 -- the first day of school at Parchment High.
According to various accounts, 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 listed Michael's cause of death as "prolonged physical restraint in prone position associated with extreme mental and motor agitation."
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 Renner-Lewis' constitutional rights. The family is seeking a $25 million judgment.
"They obviously didn't have a good understanding of autism and they responded by restraining him and that to me was unnecessary," Sally Burton Hoyle of the Autism Society of Michigan told WOOD-TV.
The groups accuse the school of harassing and discriminating against the boy because of his disability.
"Groups sue Parchment schools after autistic student's death" (Associated Press via Detroit Free Press)
"Autism Society of Michigan files lawsuit against school district following death of student" (WOOD-TV)
"The Death of Michael Renner-Lewis III" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)