DETROIT – Four people were charged with manslaughter on Wednesday, nearly eight years after the death of a black man stranded in a mall in suburban Detroit.
McKenzie Cochran, 25, of Ferndale, Mich., Fought with guards and was hit with pepper spray at the Northland Mall in Southfield, Michigan, in 2014. An autopsy showed Cochran died of asphyxiation by compression that prevented him from breathing.
Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Lucius Hamilton, John Seiberling, Gaven King and Aaron Maree were arraigned Wednesday and Thursday on manslaughter, a 15-year felony. King and Seiberling’s probable cause hearings are scheduled for October 28.
The case was referred to Nessel’s office by Southfield Police and the Oakland County District Attorney’s Office, both organizations have had new leadership in the years that have passed.
“I’m glad he was fired, I think it’s important that we have done this independent review and analysis,” Nessel said at a press conference announcing the charges Thursday. “I am very confident in the accusations that I have explained today.”
The charges come after Nessel announced in June 2020 that his office would review the case, amid nationwide protests demanding justice for George Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police. Similar to Floyd, video captured by shoppers at Southfield Mall showed several security guards holding Cochran to the ground, one straddling him, as he kept saying “I can’t breathe, I can not breathe”.
Nessel denied that the national climate played a role in his office’s decision to reconsider the case, rather than that it was simply a dismissal from the organizations.
“It is very important that, as prosecutors, we are not swayed by public opinion in one way or another,” Nessel said. “Our hope is to be completely impartial and impartial and to examine three things – and only three things – the facts, the evidence and the law.”
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The charges were initially not prosecuted in 2014 because former Oakland County District Attorney Jessica Cooper believed they would not win in court, the current Oakland County District Attorney said.
“It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about justice for McKenzie Cochran,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said Thursday. “This matter needed a second review. It is a tragic and tragic death, but we have moved forward as a community, as a state and as a country and we no longer leave these things aside when we know that there have been wrongdoing. “
McDonald added: “It has been delayed by justice, but I am so grateful that it is finally here.”
The case was brought to the attention of Southfield Police Chief Elvin Barren in June 2020 by an investigative reporter working with the Cochran family. Barren, after confirming to the family that she wanted a secondary review by the attorney general’s office, felt the case deserved reconsideration.
“When I looked at the case, I thought the case should have gone through the court system to let all the facts come out and then form a decision of guilt or innocence,” Barren said.
An initial investigation into the incident in 2014 found that officers were under-trained and had no intention of harming Cochran, resulting in no charges against security guards by Cooper.
Cooper, who defended his decision not to prosecute, agreed to ask Nessel to reconsider the case in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and public pressure.
In 2014, Cooper said security kept Cochran under duress for too long while waiting for Southfield Police, who had been delayed due to an erroneous location given by a mall dispatcher who sent police to the wrong side of the mall. Security guards feared Cochran might be armed, as he had approached a jewelry counter and said he wanted to kill someone. It was later discovered that Cochran was unarmed.
After responding, Southfield firefighters attempted to revive Cochran using scent salts and found no pulse or breathing, he was rushed to Providence Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
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A lawyer for Cochran’s estate, Gerald Thurswell, has entered into a confidential agreement with a security company. He said he interviewed the guards during the litigation and then gave the depositions to investigators.
“The bottom line is there was no reason to keep him down when he begged, ‘I can’t breathe,'” Thurswell told The Associated Press. “Justice is served. There is clearly a probable reason to have them charged.
He compared it to the death of Floyd, who said he couldn’t breathe when his neck was stuck below the knee of a Minneapolis cop in 2020. Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter.
“It could have been the first case,” Thurswell said, referring to the nearly eight years that have passed since Cochran’s death. “It shouldn’t have been the last case.”
The mall closed in 2015.
Contribution: The Associated Press
Follow Miriam Marin on Twitter @miriammarin