Groups send letter demanding accountability for in-custody death of Wichita teen

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Several Wichita clergy members and organizations have sent a letter to local officials following the death of a 17-year-old while in custody.

Cedric Lofton died last month after becoming unresponsive while being held at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake Center. Lofton was taken to the facility after a 911 call that said he was having a mental health crisis.

The letter was organized by Progeny, a Kansas group focused on changing the juvenile justice system. It questioned the use of a restraint system on Lofton by Wichita Police and the lack of mental health professionals responding to the initial 911 call.

The letter was sent to Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, Mayor Brandon Whipple, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, Sheriff Jeff Easter and all five Sedgwick County commissioners.

Progeny said it hopes to change how officials respond to those calls.

“So these situations happen where people go into crisis, and so making sure that the resources are in place for people to utilize, should this situation happen again, to where it’s not resulted in a young person put in jail – and a young person losing their life,” said Nichole Lee, who is with Progeny.

The letter also alleges a lack of transparency in the investigation of the teen’s death and calls for the transcript of the 911 calls to be made available, as well as body camera video and video from the jail.

“There has been limited information that’s been given to the community, to the family, making sure that the family has the opportunity to seek the closure that they need in these final moments and days,” Lee said.

According to Kansas Open Records laws, the video and audio can be made available to Lofton’s family. The family hired legal representation earlier this month to request the recordings.

“In the past, before 2018, these recordings from police were generally inaccessible or if they were accessible, it was uncertain under what conditions they could be disclosed,” said University of Kansas law professor Mike Kautsch.

Progeny hopes its demands will lead to changes in the response to mental health calls, as well as rethinking who should be called during mental health crises.

“So we have to put out the proper resources and the proper policies, so parents can feel comfortable in getting the help that they need in the time of crisis and feel comfortable their child will come home one day,” said LaWanda DeShazer, an advisor to the Wichita Branch NAACP Youth Council.

DeShazer said the way officials currently respond to mental health calls isn’t adequate and leads to more people who need help being incarcerated.

“It just seems again, a disconnect from a phone call for help to end up in the prison system, whether it’s Sedgwick County Jail or juvenile detention, he still ended up in the prison system, and that’s something that bothers young people all across Wichita and the youth council,” DeShazer said.

Progeny will hold a town hall Sunday led by youth in the community to continue the conversation of who to call during mental health emergencies and ways officials can respond to those calls. The town hall will be at 3 p.m. at The Center, 1914 E. 11th St. in Wichita.

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