SOUTHFIELD (WWJ) – The family of a 24-year-old Ferndale man who died after an altercation with security officers at a Detroit-area mall is suing for over $800 million.
The wrongful death lawsuit was filed late last week in Oakland Circuit Court on behalf of the estate of McKenzie Cochran, who died Jan. 28th outside a jewelry store at Northland Mall in Southfield.
The suit lists assault and battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, negligence and civil rights violations in connection with Cochrane’s death. Northland Mall, two companies affiliated with the mall and six security officers are named in the lawsuit.
Family attorney Gerald E. Thurswell told the Detroit News they considered several factors in the complaint, “including the lack of training of security officers and also what they are trained to do.”
The series of events that led to Cochran’s death actually began the day before, when he was asked to leave the mall after “standing suspiciously” outside the LA Diamonds jewelry store. Cochran returned to the store the next day, “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.
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 earlier this month. “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.”
Most of the incident was recorded on a cellphone camera. The footage has since been turned over to police.
“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 told WWJ. “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.
A spokesman for Universal Services of America — the parent company of the mall security company — declined to comment on the case.