Corey Foster was being ordered to leave the gym with other students when he took a shot that ricocheted off the basket into the head of one employee. Another worker then pushed Foster against a wall, and Foster “went for his leg,” said witness William Green, 18. That’s when the staffers converged and took Foster down, Green said.
After Foster said he couldn’t breathe, one staffer replied, “If you can’t breathe, you wouldn’t be talking.” That same person then punched Foster in the head, Green said, adding “I saw the fist connect.” Green, as he was being forced out, said he saw foam coming out of Foster’s mouth.
The account mirrors the statements of two other witnesses, who said several boys were shooting hoops when the staff ordered them to clear the court so they could play. Staff piled onto Foster after he became angry, they said.
“When they got off of him, he was on the ground and wasn’t responsive,” said Antonio Reeder, 17, a resident.
The other witness, Malik Legree, 17, said Foster “was angry that he was being pushed off” the court.
Police are reviewing video from the gym at the Biondi Education Center, questioning witnesses and awaiting autopsy results to try to determine how Foster died and whether there was any criminal wrongdoing. Yonkers Detective Lt. Patrick McCormack said police are aware of the witness accounts and that “it’s possible” people could be charged in the case.
“It could turn out that way, but right now, there are no indications” of any criminality, McCormack said. “It’s all going to have to be looked at.”
John Francis, a student who knew the dead teen, said that Foster was from New York City and that he had been physically restrained before by school staff and taken into classrooms to calm down. Francis himself has been physically restrained by teachers before and descibed it as “pretty rough. They just hold you down.”
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In some instances, he said, students are restrained by choke holds. “It’s not appropriate,” he said. “They have to be more careful.”
Foster, whose address was listed as Leake & Watts at 463 Hawthorne Ave., was rushed to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers, where he was pronounced dead.
Meredith Barber, director of institutional advancement at the Leake & Watts Yonkers office, released this statement this afternoon:
“Last evening, a 16-year old resident of the Residential Treatment Center died following basketball play at the school gymnasium. Many staff and residents were present at this recreational activity. As soon as there was any indication that the young man needed medical intervention, on campus medical personnel and 911 were summoned immediately. We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and our hearts go out to this young man’s family and all who loved him.
“At this time we cannot speak to any of the details of the cause of his death pending the outcome of the police and medical examiner’s investigations.
“We are fully cooperating with these investigations and will continue to do so going forward. At this time, out of respect for his family and their privacy, we will not be releasing any personal details of this young man.
“The loss of any life, especially one so young, is heart wrenching. We all mourn the tragic death of this young man.”
Lt. McCormack gave this account this morning: Foster was playing basketball and there was a dispute on the court. Multiple Leake & Watts staffers restrained the boy and he went into cardiac arrest. While they were restraining him, the police were called.
When police arrived, Foster was lying unresponsive on the gym floor with ambulance workers and school staff administring CPR, McCormack said. Members of the police Emergency Services Unit also tried to revive Foster as he was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He was pronounced dead in the hospital emergency room at 9:22 p.m.
McCormack said it was Leake & Watts staffers who restrained the boy, not the police. "We did not restrain him at any time. We actually assisted in resuscitating him," McCormack said.
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McCormack said he did not know how the Leake & Watts staffers restrained the boy. He said no mechanical restraints were used, describing it as “physical restraint” by school staff. He did not say how many people held Foster down.
“This is an open and active investigation,” McCormack said, adding that detectives spent the night interviewing teachers, students and school staff. “No one has been charged criminally at this time.”
McCormack confirmed that the gym had surveillance cameras and police were reviewing the video today.
Fellow students described Foster as a big young man, 6 foot 1 or 6 foot 2 and heavy, well-built.
The Westchester Medical Examiner’s Office is conducting an autopsy and said results were not expected until Friday
At Leake & Watts this morning, security guards were stopping and checking every car at the main entrance on Hawthorne Avenue.
Shelton Anderson, 15, a non-resident student who lives in the Bronx, said that he knew Foster for four or five years. Foster started living on campus recently because something happened to his grandmother, Anderson said.
Foster was a nice kid, Anderson said, but: "He was a little off. He would just wild out. If someone said something wrong about him, he would go crazy."
John Gray, a non-resident student arriving at the campus this morning, said he knew Corey Foster for months. He said Foster wasn't loud but he wasn't quiet either.
"It's a shame that happened," Gray said. "No one deserves to die."
Gray said he was surprised at the death because there are fights, but the staff usually stops it and calms it down. "If there's a fight, they just break it up like any other school," Gray said.
On Foster's death, he said: "It went the wrong way. Mistakes happen."
Police were called to the non-profit facility which caters to troubled youth about 8 p.m. Wednesday.
The school specializes in educating students with emotional and social difficulties, according to the Leake & Watts website.
Police have, in recent years, been called upon to deal with students at the school suspected of violent crimes.
In May 2009, a 20-year-old resident at the Leake & Watts home at the same Hawthorne Avenue address was accused of sexually molesting an employee of the institution.
In September 2008, a 17-year-old student was arrested after swinging a pair of scissors at a school monitor.