WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett says he can’t file charges over the death of 17-year-old Cedric Lofton who became unresponsive while being restrained after an altercation with staff at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC) in September.
Cedric Lofton died at a hospital on Sept. 26. It was two days after the altercation at the center.
A December autopsy report contradicted an earlier, preliminary finding that the teenager hadn’t suffered life-threatening injuries. The autopsy ruled the death a homicide.
Bennett spent more than an hour describing in detail the testimony from each person involved, the evidence collected from video, and the state statutes that would cover the case. (Read from the document released by the DA)
Bennett says the state’s “stand your ground” law prevents him from bringing any charges because of evidence showing Lofton hitting several staff members from JIAC and JDF (Juvenile Detention Facility).
“Pursuant to Kansas self-defense and stand your ground law, they’re immune from prosecution. If I bring this case, the immunity statute says they cannot be prosecuted. I am not supposed to file this charge. If I did it anyway, the judge would be duty-bound to dismiss the case,” said Bennett.
The official report indicates Lofton did not die because of the wrap restraint, or the minor injuries he suffered during the scuffle with authorities.
It says Lofton’s death was a combination of two things, “The long-lasting struggle while in the face-down position impeded his breathing which caused the supply of oxygen to his heart to be compromised until the point where his heart stopped,” commented Bennett. “He doesn’t die just because he’s in a struggle, he doesn’t die just because he’s being held down, it takes both in the situation that caused it to happen,” he added.
The family of Cedric Lofton has released a statement on behalf of the district attorney’s decision:
We are extremely troubled by the District Attorney’s decision not to charge anyone in connection with the unjustified killing of 17 year-old Cedric Lofton. This is yet another instance of an unarmed Black teenager killed by law enforcement with impunity, threat of reprisal or even an ounce of accountability. Similar to the George Floyd case, Cedric’s death was caused by authorities obligated to protect him. In this case, they restrained Cedric in the prone position and took his breath away.”Civil Rights Attorneys Andrew M. Stroth and Steven Hart
Progeny, a youth/adult partnership focused on reimagining the juvenile justice system and reinvestment into community-based alternatives, located in Wichita, has also released a statement on behalf of the district attorney’s decision:
We are outraged that Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett has decided not to file criminal charges against those responsible for killing Cedric Lofton. We are appalled by this blatant disregard for the life of Cedric Lofton and will continue to fight for justice in this case.
“We cannot allow his death to be yet another horrific story of the Kansas youth justice system – it is time we realize that bold, immediate action is needed. It could not be clearer that these facilities pose a dangerous threat to our young people. If local and state officials invested in mental health and community supports for youth instead of funding a system based on punishment, Cedric would still be with us today.”Marquetta Atkins, executive director of Progeny
Bennet said that County Manager Tom Stolz asked him to review the case and provide his suggestions for what could prevent something like this happening again. Bennet said that policy or law changes regarding using restraints for juveniles in custody, mental health training for law enforcement, and other mental health changes were among the recommendations he gave to the county, saying it is in the hands of policy makers to consider any changes.
Martens said a community task force would be formed to review the incident and death.
Representatives from the Wichita Branch of the NAACP, Greater Wichita Ministerial League, Kansas Appleseed, St. Francis Ministries, Destination Innovation (Progeny), Catholic Charities, Kansas Advisory Group on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Team Justice – Sedgwick County Corrections Juvenile Advisory Board, Juvenile Defense Counsel, COMCARE, Mental Health Association, Department of Children and Families (DCF), Law Enforcement, Department of Corrections, Wichita USD 259, Wichita Children’s Home and other strategic community partners will be invited to be part of the task force.
“Cedric Lofton’s death was very tragic for his family, the community, and all of those working in our youth correctional facility,” said Martens. “It is important as a local public safety entity in our local government that we are accountable, transparent for our community.”
Attorney Mattew Topic, of Loevy & Loevy, is representing Cedric Lofton’s surviving brother, Marquan Teetz and Pastor Maurice Evans. Topic filed a lawsuit on behalf of Teetz and Evans, arguing that the county violated the State’s open records laws, known as the Kansas open records act.
“We think the public ought to see these videos promptly to understand what happened to Cedric and law enforcement from long ago not long after the death occurred was already making comments about Cedric and what they said happened,” said Topic.
As for the video before the death of Lofton, Sedgwick County said it would be released following some redactions.
Martens answered questions on video and addressed audio issues on that video. She said the system is older and didn’t record audio. However, the county said that could be addressed in the future.
The Wichita Police Department has released bodycam footage with redactions from the police officers who interacted with Cedric Lofton on the night of Sept. 24. You can view that footage by clicking here and clicking the link under “Documents.”