Wichita death spurs call for alternative to incarceration of teenagers

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TOPEKA — An organization working to reform the Kansas juvenile justice system called for an end to incarceration of youth after a 17-year-old boy died at the Sedgwick County intake facility.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday a preliminary review indicated Wichita police officers responded to a disturbance in which Cedric Lofton, of Wichita, was found to be “paranoid” and “behaving erratically” outside a home. Officers unsuccessfully attempted to convince him to voluntarily seek mental health treatment. They engaged in a physical struggle while taking him into custody, the KBI said.

Lofton was transferred to the intake facility where another altercation with corrections officers occurred. Corrections officers later found him unresponsive and administered emergency care, the KBI said. He was transported to Westley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The KBI said Lofton’s cause of death was pending further investigation and toxicology results.

Nicole Lee, campaign manager for Progeny, a Wichita organization focused on reforming the juvenile justice system, said the boy’s death was another example of why Kansas policy needed to change.

“This is a tragic example of the immense harm caused when young people are placed behind bars and, much worse, restrained like animals under the supervision of adults who are supposed to keep them safe. These facilities are devastating our community. They need to be stopped,” Lee said.

Lee said the response to young people in need of support should involve compassion and restoration rather than restraint and harm.

“We call for a transparent and thorough investigation surrounding this young person’s death while in custody,” she said.

The KBI is responsible by state law for investigation of all in-custody deaths that occur in Kansas jails or prisons unless the inmate died while being regularly attended by a physician or when an autopsy revealed the death was due to natural causes.

Wichita police arrived at the residence around 1 a.m. Friday. Officers attempted to persuade Lofton to seek mental health treatment, the KBI reported. Eventually, he was arrested on four counts of battery of a law enforcement officer.

Lofton was allowed out of a holding cell at the juvenile intake facility to use the restroom. A staff member escorting him back to the cell was assaulted by Lofton, the KBI said. Corrections staff monitoring Lofton later realized he was unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 1:55 a.m. Friday.

The KBI was asked by the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department to investigate the death about eight hours later.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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