2 employees charged in death of 16-year-old at Allendale Association

An employee of Allendale Association has been charged with manslaughter in the asphyxiation death Wednesday of Shaquan Allen, 16, of Chicago, at the residential campus in Lake Villa for children and adolescents with moderate to profound emotional and behavioral disabilities.

James Davis, 37, of Round Lake, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and obstruction of justice, and another employee, Justin Serak, 27, of Grafton, Wisconsin, was charged with obstruction of justice, Lake County authorities said Saturday morning.

Bond for Davis was set at $1 million at a court hearing Saturday in Waukegan, and bond for Serak was set at $50,000.

Officials said the two men, who had worked at the campus for several years, responded to a behavioral issue and were trying to get Shaquan back to his room. Serak grabbed his legs and Davis his upper body, applying a chokehold, officials said.

Lake Villa police and rescue responded to the report of an injury at Allendale campus at 9:58 p.m. Shaquan was taken to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, where he was pronounced dead at 11:10 p.m. Officials say fifteen minutes passed between the time Shaquan became unconscious and Allendale staff called 911.

"That is still being investigated," Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said. "It is certainly troubling to me."

The two employees initially said Shaquan spilled a cup of water, then slipped, officials said. Police interviewed 16 witnesses who contradicted that account, and Serak admitted he and Davis came up with the story to make Shaquan's death appear to be an accident, officials said. In fact, the water came from one of the employees throwing a cup of water on Shaquan's face in an effort to revive him, Nerheim said.

Lake Villa Chief of Police Craig Somerville says there have been three staff-involved incidents at Allendale in recent years, including two cases of battery and one of inappropriate text messaging.

"Any time there's anything like that involving a juvenile, it causes a concern," Somerville said. "These matters are thoroughly investigated."

Shaquan's death remains under investigation, and officials say additional charges could follow.

"The investigation is far from over," Lake County Sheriff's Detective Chris Covelli said. "While two people were charged today, that's because there was evidence that fit the charges they were charged with."

The family's attorney Cannon Lambert Sr. said he and the family hope additional charges will be brought against Allendale employees.

"You use a chokehold when you want to kill someone," Lambert said. "They have policies in place for how they're supposed to deal with residents and how to restrain them."

Shaquan's mother, Willie Mae Allen, said Friday her son had been receiving treatment for three years at Allendale, a private, nonprofit residential treatment center. His behavioral problems, she said, were likely due in part to his father's death in 2007.

"He was only 16 years old. I didn't send him there for that. I sent him to get help, because I didn't want to lose him to the streets," she said.

Shaquan was a ward of the state, but his mother said she last spoke with Shaquan two days before his death, and he talked about coming home for spring break.

Allendale officials did not return messages seeking comment Saturday.

The state has put a hold on accepting any new children there while it investigates, spokeswoman Veronica Resa said Friday.

Allendale was founded in 1897. The organization helps youth through residential treatment programs, day treatment special education schools or from community-based clinical programs and services, according to its website.

The Lake Villa campus has residential services for 150 clients and a school with an enrollment of 200 students. Allendale also has homes or community-based centers in Wisconsin, Highland Park and Waukegan.

Both Davis and Serak will appear in court again April 18.

Family says 'mysterious circumstances' in teen's death at Allendale in Lake Villa

James Davis, 37, of Round Lake, charged with involuntary manslaughter and obstruction of justice in the death of Shaquan Allen, 16, of Chicago at Allendale Association in Lake Villa.
Justin Serak, 27 of Grafton, Wisconsin, charged with obstruction of justice in the death of Shaquan Allen, 16, of Chicago at Allendale Association in Lake Villa.
Shaquan Allen, 16, died at Lake Villa's Allendale.
  Attorney Cannon Lambert Sr., seated left, is joined by the family of Shaquan Allen Friday at a Chicago news conference. Shaquan's mother, Willie Mae, said she's seeking answers to her son's death. Christopher Placek/
This is the Allendale Association campus off Grand Avenue in Lake Villa. Daily Herald photo
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