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Medical Examiner: Man's Death At Northland Mall Was Accidental

SOUTHFIELD (WWJ/AP) - A medical examiner has ruled that the death of a 25-year-old man following a confrontation with security guards at Southfield shopping mall was accidental.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office found the official cause of death of McKenzie Cochran was position compression asphyxia.

"The security guards were doing their jobs ... acting appropriately," according to Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Cheryl Loewe, who said "no purposeful act" was involved.

When asked to clarify the cause of death, Loewe told the Detroit Free Press it was a result of "body position with a possible component of compression."

Cochran died in late January after being involved in an altercation with security guards outside of a jewelry store at Northland Mall on 8 Mile Road. He was pepper-sprayed and restrained by at least three guards after a shop owner felt threatened and called for help.

Loewe noted that Cochran was agitated and under the influence of marijuana during the incident, but said the pepper-spray did not contribute to his death.

Attorney Gerald Thurswell, who represents Cochran's family, is disputing the medical examiner's determination. He recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Cochran's estate, seeking $800 million.

The security guards at Northland Mall "put him on the ground, they crushed his chest to the ground and caused him to be asphyxiated. They killed him," Thurswell said. "They executed him, they really did. They became the judge and jury, and they executed him."

The lawsuit 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.

Southfield police interviewed witnesses and guards at Northland Mall after Cochran died Jan. 28.

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.

The Southfield Police Department is expected to send the case to the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office to determine whether or not criminal charges are appropriate in the case.

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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