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No criminal charges in death of Wichita teen who died in custody

 Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett at a lectern.
Kylie Cameron
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said he will not file criminal charges in the case involving Cedric Lofton, who died while in custody.

The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office will not file criminal charges in the death of Cedric Lofton, who died in September after being taken to the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center.

The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office will not file criminal charges in the death of Cedric Lofton.

Lofton, 17, died in September after being taken to the county's Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center during a mental health crisis after his guardian called 911.

District Attorney Marc Bennett said Tuesday that Kansas immunity and Stand Your Ground laws prevented him from filing charges in the teen’s death because the center’s employees were acting in self defense.

Employees have said Lofton became combative at the center and had to be restrained. Lofton suffered cardiopulmonary arrest while he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach.

“Should not have happened, but these folks are protected by Kansas law,” Bennett said. “Same as anyone else would be, and that’s where I’m at.”

Lofton’s death was ruled a homicide last month, according to an autopsy report. But Bennett said at the time that the report did not mean a crime had been committed.

Lofton’s family released a statement through their attorneys criticizing the 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.”

The family filed an open records lawsuit Tuesday, the same day Bennett decided not to file charges. According to its attorney, the family requested copies of any video related to Lofton’s case last week. The county denied it, citing the ongoing investigation.

The family’s lawsuit seeks immediate access to that video.

“Until such time as they have released the videos, we’re going to move forward aggressively to ensure that the public is able to see these videos and come to an understanding about what happened to Cedric,” attorney Matt Topic said.

Bennett said during the news conference that the county and Wichita Police are expected to release at least parts of the videos in the future.

The Wichita Police Department released its videos related to Lofton's arrest on Tuesday after the news conference.

Following Bennett’s ruling, the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections said it will create a task force to look in to the teen’s death and make recommendations for policy changes.

How Lofton’s death happened

Bennett recounted the events that led up to Lofton’s death at a news conference Tuesday.

Lofton’s guardian had originally called 911 for him to be taken in for a mental health evaluation, but a Wichita Police sergeant on the scene decided to take Lofton to the juvenile facility.

During that call, Lofton was also put in a restraint device when he wouldn’t follow officers’ commands.

At the facility, an employee determined Lofton should not be booked into the facility.

During processing to take Lofton out of the facility, Lofton wouldn’t listen to that same worker. A struggle then ensued with a nearby detention employee.

During the struggle, Lofton hit the detention worker, which Bennett cited in his decision to not press charges against the worker.

A call was then made for additional workers to respond, and leg shackles were put on Lofton while he was facedown on the floor.

Lofton was on the floor for about 30 minutes before workers realized he was not breathing. Workers performed CPR on Lofton before EMS workers arrived to take him to a hospital.

He was pronounced dead two days later.
Copyright 2022 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron or email her at cameron (at) kmuw (dot) org.
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