SOUTHFIELD (WWJ) – Relatives of a man who died following a confrontation with security guards at a metro Detroit shopping mall believe he was murdered, and they’re planning to file a lawsuit.

Attorney Gerald Thurswell is representing the family of 24-year-old McKenzie Cochran, of Ferndale, who died on Tuesday after an altercation at Northland Center on Greenfield and 8 Mile roads in Southfield. Thurswell said Cochran was pepper-sprayed and restrained so tightly, he lost consciousness.

“We believe that he was suffocated, asphyxiated,” Thurswell told WWJ’s Beth Fisher. “He had been sprayed with pepper-spray, which causes respiratory difficulties, causing him to have difficulty breathing. After they sprayed him with the pepper-spray, they threw him on the ground, put him face down, and then another security guard put his knee on his back.”

The series of events that led to Cochran’s death actually began Monday, when he was asked to leave the mall after “standing suspiciously” outside the LA Diamonds jewelry store. Cochran returned to the store on Tuesday, “looking angry” through the showcase windows. The business owner apparently went to talk to Cochran and that’s when police say he threatened to kill someone.

Security guards responded to the scene but Cochran was apparently “not cooperative.” The guards then pepper-sprayed and placed Cochran in handcuffs. When police arrived on the scene, they found Cochran had a pulse but wasn’t breathing. He was pronounced dead at a hospital about an hour after the confrontation began.

Most of the incident was recorded on a cellphone camera.

“When he’s telling them that he’s dying, he says, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. Call 911, I can’t breathe. I’m dying,'” Thurswell said. “And they just keep that knee on his back, compressing his lungs and chest into the ground when he says he can’t breathe. That’s outrageous. That’s absolutely outrageous.”

Thurswell said the cellphone video shows Cochran asking for help at least six times as multiple witnesses looked on.

Brent Reetz, general manager of Northland Center, told the Detroit Free Press that Cochran became combative and “pumped up his muscles” when security guards approached him, and that’s why they restrained him. Reetz said the guards weren’t aware Cochran had stopped breathing during the scuffle.

Thurswell said the actions of the security guards were completely out of line, regardless if Cochran was making threats.

“That was before they pepper-sprayed him, that was before they threw him on the ground, and that was before they crushed his chest and lungs into the ground, preventing him to breathe. They had no right to kill him,” he said.

A spokesman for Universal Services of America — the parent company of the mall security company — declined to comment on the case.

Thurswell said the family anticipates filing a wrongful death lawsuit sometime over the next few days. He said the whole situation has just ripped Cochran’s family apart, especially his mother — who talked to her son only hours before his death.

“She was in the kitchen cooking breakfast and she was in her bare feet and McKenzie came in to his mother and said, ‘Why are you in your bare feet?’ and she said, ‘I forgot to put my house shoes on.’ He ran and got her her house shoes and that is just an example of the caring, loving son that he was. She’s been devastated,” he said.

MORE: Man Dies After Confrontation With Mall Security Guards


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