It was a busy week in the follow-up in the death of 17-year-old Cedric “CJ” Lofton. The Sedgwick County Community Task Force appointed since his death to Review Youth Corrections, held their first meeting, news came out that the FBI the CJ case, and finally, the Sedgwick County Commission voted 4-to-1 to allow the Community Task Force to send a letter to the Department of Justice requesting it to review whether any federal crimes involving civil rights violations occured surrounding the CJ case.
Just this week, we also learned that Sedgwick County had already taken steps to improve procedures at the Juvenicle Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC) where CJ was taken by Wichita Police Department and and left five hours later brain dead.
Among the new policies and procedures at JIAC, juveniles who arrive in a WRAP device will have to receive a mental health evaluation. Lofton was in such a device when police dropped him off at the center.
As of Jan. 19, the county’s policy for the juvenile intake center said that juveniles coming into the center who are going through a mental health crisis should not be taken into detention.
Before juveniles are taken in to the county facility, a law enforcement officer must fill out an intake form that states they are no signs of physical harm, illness, intoxication, or mental health problems. That form was signed for Lofton before he was taken in for assessment.
In December, the form was revised to include whether a WRAP device was used during or after an arrest.
In a 2016 report written after a visit to the center, the Kansas Department of Corrections noted that there were too many juveniles being transferred to the detention facility during a mental health crisis.
“… in some cases detention likely is being used as a means to control juveniles – work with partners to reduce/eliminate that practice,” the report reads.
The summary also noted that support was needed to get faster responses for mental health cases and that the county was interested in training from KDOC on de-escalation techniques.
In their first meeting, the Community Task Force committee outlined their ground rules and mission.
“ There will be some hard conversations to come, but there are serious systemic issues that we need to address across several levels,” said Larry Burks, a task force member and president of the Wichita Branch NAACP.
Sedgwick County provided three booklets to the task force to review current Youth Corrections Systems Standards. This living document includes JIAC incident reports and their code of ethics. Additional information will be forthcoming, on State and City level policies and laws, including the state’s Stand Your Ground Laws that District Attorney Mark Bennett used as justification for not charging anyone in the homicide of Lofton.
The task force will not be given access to personnel records or the authority to interview the government employees who avoided being charged with Lofton’s death last month.involved in the incident. Still, they have already begun discussions about touring the JIAC facility and requesting the juvenile corrections staff’s disciplinary history.
Marquetta Atkins, a task force member representing the youth program Destination Innovation, said that while the task force focuses on the future of youth corrections and mental health, task force members must not forget it took the death of a 17-year old to force discussions of a long-broken system.
“ So while we’re working to make sure this doesn’t happen to another child, we’re not going to forget that nobody was held accountable for the murder of this child and that we held a child accountable for his own death,” said Atkins.
In addition to community members, the 15-member panel includes representatives from the Wichita Police Department, Wichita Public schools, and several other mental health organizations. The task force has two youth representatives, Progeny Kansas and the NAACP Youth Council, who proactively spoke on the need to include youth as a part of this evaluation process.
“Having young people in positions like this is something that we have asked for at the state and county level for years now and so I’m very glad to be included,” said Jasmine Rogers, a youth organizer with Progeny Kansas.
While the task force is responsible for creating their agendas and rules, the meetings are facilitated by LaShonda Garnes, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Fidelity Bank, and Vera Bothner and Tami Bradley, owners of the communications and consulting firm Bothner & Bradley.
The Community Taskforce agreed to hold weekly hybrid – both virtual and in person – meetings beginning at 4:30 p.m. each Monday. In person meeting will be held at the Ronald Reagan Building, 271 W. 3rd St., 3rd floor conference room. The task force couldn’t agree on a process to receive community input but proposed meetings dedicated to public comment or email contact as a way for residents to share their concerns with the panel.