Death of 17-Year-Old in Custody in Kansas Is Ruled a Homicide
A medical examiner said that Cedric Lofton died of “complications of cardiopulmonary arrest” after he was handcuffed facedown in a juvenile correctional center.,
A medical examiner said that Cedric Lofton died of “complications of cardiopulmonary arrest” after he was handcuffed facedown in a juvenile correctional center.
The death of a teenager who lost consciousness after he was handcuffed by personnel at a county juvenile center in Wichita, Kan., while lying facedown was a homicide, according to a Kansas medical examiner.
The finding came several months after the authorities said that a preliminary autopsy suggested that the teenager, Cedric Lofton, 17, had not suffered life-threatening injuries while in custody.
Mr. Lofton was arrested on Sept. 24 when the police were called to a house in Wichita after he began “exhibiting erratic and aggressive behavior” toward his foster family, according to an autopsy report from the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center.
The police took Mr. Lofton to a county juvenile center, where he fought with correctional staff members, who placed shackles on his ankles, rolled him onto his abdomen and handcuffed his wrists behind his back, the report said. He appeared to calm down and made “snoring sounds” but when staff members checked for a pulse four minutes later, they could not find one, the report said.
Mr. Lofton did not regain consciousness and died two days later, according to the report, which was filed in Sedgwick County District Court on Monday.
“In my opinion, Cedric Lofton died as a result of complications of cardiopulmonary arrest sustained after physical struggle while restrained in the prone position,” wrote Dr. Timothy S. Gorrill, the chief medical examiner. “The manner of death is homicide.”
The employees in the corrections department who were involved in the episode have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of the district attorney’s investigation, Sedgwick County officials said in a statement.
County officials said they could not comment on the case, citing the “active investigation.”
The office of the county district attorney, Marc Bennett, said in a statement that it was reviewing the autopsy results and the “lengthy investigation” conducted by agents of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office.
“When a charging decision has been finalized, the public will be notified,” the prosecutor’s office said.
The sheriff’s office declined to comment. Jeff Easter, the county sheriff, said in September that a preliminary autopsy had found that Mr. Lofton did not suffer life-threatening injuries at the center.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said the investigation into the teenager’s death remained “ongoing.”
“Once the investigation is completed we will share all investigative findings with the Sedgwick County district attorney, who will make charging decisions,” Melissa Underwood, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an email.
Mr. Lofton was a high school senior and planned to move to California after graduation to pursue a musical career, said Andrew Stroth, a lawyer based in Chicago who is representing the teenager’s biological parents and his older brother.
“He had a future and a life that was taken away by the authorities in Wichita,” Mr. Stroth said.
The family has been trying to get answers from officials for months about the death of Mr. Lofton and have been frustrated by what they see as a “lack of transparency” from law enforcement, he said.
“You have an unarmed 135-pound teenager in custody that, without cause or provocation, is killed,” said Mr. Stroth, who is representing the family along with Steven Hart, another lawyer in Chicago.
Mr. Stroth added: “The autopsy report is significant because it shows objective evidence about what happened.”
He declined to say why Mr. Lofton was in foster care. The report described Mr. Lofton as “well-nourished” and “well-developed.”
The safety of subduing suspects facedown, or putting them in a prone position, has been questioned after the deaths of several people who were restrained in such a manner.
A growing chorus of experts has argued that research saying the position does not lead to deaths is flawed and has been applied too broadly.
Mr. Lofton ran away from his foster home on Sept. 21, according to the report, and returned on Sept. 24 around midnight.
The police had planned to take him to a “behavioral health unit” at a nearby hospital, the report said.
But when Mr. Lofton “assaulted one or more of the officers,” they took him to the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center, the report said. He was charged with four counts of battery on a law enforcement officer by the Wichita police, according to Sedgwick County officials.
Mr. Lofton was placed in a cell at 2:45 a.m. A correctional staff member took him out of the cell at 4:20 a.m. and brought him into the lobby. He became “uncooperative and agitated” and two staff members tried to restrain him.
Mr. Lofton freed his arm and punched one of the staff members in the head, the report said.
“Additional staff members” became involved and shackled his ankles, the report said, citing video footage of the incident. Mr. Lofton kept struggling and at 5:08 a.m. he was handcuffed and placed facedown.
When staff members could not find a pulse, they began performing chest compressions and called for help. He was taken to a nearby hospital where “brain death” was pronounced on Sept. 26, according to the report.
Mr. Lofton also tested positive for Covid-19, the report said, and his face and several parts of his body were covered with bruises and abrasions.