Prosecutor: No charges in Black Kansas teen’s custody death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prosecutor said Tuesday that he won’t file criminal charges over the death of a Black 17-year-old who became unresponsive while being restrained facedown for more than 30 minutes following an altercation with staff at a Wichita juvenile center in September.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said the state’s “stand your ground” law prevents him from bringing any charges in the death of Cedric Lofton. Bennett said that if he did bring charges, “a judge would be duty bound to dismiss the case.”

The case sparked outrage among community activists, who called for a special prosecutor, the release of video and the names of the individuals involved in the death.

Lofton had briefly been in the custody of the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center when the altercation occurred on Sept. 24. After staff realized he was unresponsive, he was taken to a hospital, where he died two days later.

A December autopsy ruled the death a homicide and contradicted an earlier, preliminary finding that the teenager hadn’t suffered life-threatening injuries. The autopsy said that the teen’s heart and breathing stopped after he was handcuffed while lying on his stomach.

Bennett said there are legitimate policy questions, including about whether he should have been taken to a mental health facility instead of a juvenile intake center and whether the use of a restraint system was appropriate, but that none of the questions justify criminal charges.

Bennett said he struggled with whether a charge of involuntary manslaughter was justified, but concluded that it was not.

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“The bottom line is the video, the interviews of the employees, even the coroner’s findings that the death was caused by the effect of a prolonged struggle support the workers’ explanation that they only held him down because he continued to struggle that entire time,” Bennett said. “If they have the ability to defend themselves initially, because he resisted, then the fact that he continued to resist for some 30 minutes meant they that could under Kansas law continue to lawfully apply the restraint.”

“One might reasonably ask why they didn’t just let him up, instead of holding him down for so long. Simply to keep him from hurting them or himself,” Bennett said. “The law dictates they are judged by their actions, not by choices not made.”

The autopsy cited reports from authorities that Lofton ran away from a foster home on Sept. 21, then was “erratic and aggressive” toward his foster parents when he returned early Sept. 24. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation has said that Wichita police, responding to a call of a disturbance, encountered Lofton outside a house and tried to get him to seek mental health treatment.

The 5-foot-10, 135-pound Lofton resisted police, assaulting one or more of the officers, according the autopsy report, and he was taken to the juvenile center and put in a cell at 2:45 a.m. The autopsy report said that staff at the center let him out of his cell at 4:20 a.m. — to use the restroom, according to the KBI. Lofton was “uncooperative and agitated” and punched a staff member in the head, according to the autopsy report, leading to the struggle with multiple staff members.

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The autopsy report said Lofton’s ankles were shackled, he was “moved to the floor” and rolled onto his stomach, and he continued to struggle before being handcuffed. The report said Lofton then “calmed down, making occasional snoring sounds.” A minute after staff members were unable to find a pulse, they began chest compressions and called emergency personnel, just before 5:15 a.m., the report said.


Hanna reported from Topeka, Kan.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Marc Bennett’s last name.


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