Activists, Family Demand Action in Case of Cedric Lofton, Teen Who Died in Police Custody

Several community groups, along with family members of Cedric Lofton, a 17-year-old who died in police custody in Wichita, Kansas in September, sent a letter to the state calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate Lofton's death.

Lofton was arrested Sept. 24 on suspicion of battery of a law enforcement officer after police responded to a disturbance call and found Lofton outside of a house. The Kansas Bureau of Investigations said officers encouraged Lofton to seek mental health treatment before attempting to take him into custody.

Later that night at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center, Lofton allegedly attacked an employee who was taking him back to his cell from the bathroom.

He was restrained by officers and held on the ground, before returning to his room and later being found unresponsive and transported to a local hospital, where he died two days later.

An autopsy released last week ruled Lofton's death a homicide, contradicting an earlier report from police that claimed Lofton did not receive life-threatening injuries in either encounter with police or employees at the correctional facility.

Activist groups also requested the release of surveillance video of Lofton's altercation in the correctional facility, which his family has reportedly seen and has called for its release.

"The injuries in the autopsy report are consistent with the video that shows the officers using excessive force," said Andrew M. Stroth, a civil rights attorney who is representing Lofton's family. "The officers took Cedric's breath away. Cedric Lofton could not breathe."

Cedric Lofton, Wichita Kansas, Police Custody Death
This April 21, 2019, photo provided by Sarah Harrison shows Cedric Lofton of Wichita, Kan., who died at a Kansas juvenile center in Sept. 2021. A coalition of community groups demanded Monday that a special prosecutor be appointed in the case after an autopsy report released last week contradicted an earlier, preliminary finding that the teenager hadn’t suffered life-threatening injuries. Sarah Harrison via AP

The initial report said that the teen's heart and breathing stopped after he was handcuffed while lying on his stomach.

The letter cited what it called false and misleading statements made at an initial press conference by Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett and Sheriff Jeff Easter implying the death was not the responsibility of law enforcement. It also cited Bennett's history of not charging law enforcement officers.

Activists calling themselves the Community Empowerment & Resilience Coalition wrote that "our community does not have any faith or trust in the independence" of Bennett. The letter was signed by Lofton's family and more than two dozen other community groups and people. It seeks a reply by Jan. 10.

Dan Dillon, the spokesman for Bennett's office, said in an email Monday that there is no basis under Kansas law for the office of the district attorney to pursue a recusal. He said Bennett anticipates completing his review of the death within 15 days and the public will be notified at that time. No further comment will be made until that review is complete, he said.

The spokesman for the sheriff's office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

"Today's unprecedented community action in Wichita and peaceful rally at the Sedgwick County Building consisted of a diverse coalition of community leaders and organizations committed to fighting for justice for Cedric," said Andrew M. Stroth, a civil rights attorney who is representing the family.

Bennett said last week that an autopsy's finding that the death was a homicide doesn't necessarily mean the employees committed any crimes. The designation only means that someone committed an intentional act that led to the death of another person. Whether criminal charges can be brought is a separate, legal determination.

Lofton's family and an attorney have had a private showing of the videos involving the law enforcement encounter with the teen, but they do not have copies of the video and are urging its public release. The video shows officers on top of the teen at various times, Stroth said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.