Friends and family gathered Tuesday evening outside the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center for a brief but solemn ceremony to remember Cedric “C.J.” Lofton and to remind people what happened to him there.
On Oct. 24, 2021, Lofton was brought to JIAC after his foster father called police because he felt the 17-year-old was experiencing a mental incident. Within hours, Lofton. was on life support in a nearby hospital. Two days later he was dead. The next day would have been his 18th birthday.
The candlelight vigil, led by Lofton’s brother, Marquez Teetz, focused mostly on positive memories about CJ. Teetz shared memories about the close bond he had with Lofton, who was two-years-younger and used to follow him around.
“No matter what the circumstances, no matter what came about, at least we always had each other,” said Teetz.
More than anything, Lofton loved rapping and making people laugh, said Teetz.
Since Lofton’s death, Teetz says he met a lot of his friends from Wichita and Junction City and some who Lofton met in the group and foster homes he’d lived in. From them, he learned there were a lot of people who said Lofton made an impact on their life.
“At the end of the day, no matter what he was going through, he tried to help make other people’s days, to make them smile at the very least,” recalled Teetz. “He did that for me a lot of the time.”
What Happened to CJ?
In January 2022, video of the incident involving Cedric and JIAC showed Lofton was held down in a prone (on his stomach) position for nearly 25 minutes until he was rendered unconscious. Despite Department of Justice memos dating back to 1995 warning law enforcement departments about the potential of “sudden” death from prone restraint, videos released of JIAC staff’s confrontation with Lofton and staff members’ post-incident interviews with Wichita Police Officers, indicate a lack of awareness by JIAC staff of the danger of prone restraint.
At the vigil, Teetz expressed concern that the officers who held Lofton down still work at the jail and have not been penalized for his death.
The most pointed recommendations of the committee selected to review policies and procedures that led to Lofton’s death were targeted at the staff, systems and processes at JIAC.
At the top of the committee’s recommendations for JIAC was a revision of the Department’s Use of Force policy to eliminate the use of prone restraint except to cuff and sit or cuff and stand an individual.
In addition, regarding policies surrounding restraint, the committee recommended requiring one JIAC staff person “to be responsible for video/audio recording any incidents of restraint, keeping time to ensure a youth is sitting or standing immediately after cuffing/restraining, and the youth is in overall good health and wellbeing. This person would also observe employees and be in charge of “tapping out” anyone who appears to have reached his or her physical, mental, or emotional limit when working with a youth.
According to the recommendations, this person should never assist in restraining the youth.”
Teetz and many of the individuals at the candlelight vigil expressed the need for and are working towards changing state laws to help ensure nothing like this occurs again.
Looking for State Level Changes
Along with Teetz, many of those at the candlelight ceremony and others across the state are working to get several state laws changed as a way to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
They are looking for a change in the state’s Stand Your Ground Law, after Sedgwick County District Attorney used the law as a reason why he couldn’t file charges against the JIAC officers who held Lofton down.
Bennett said that statute allows for the use of deadly force if a person “reasonably believes” it to be necessary to defend themselves or someone else against a deadly threat. Bennett concluded that the juvenile center’s employees believed they were acting in self-defense during the Sept. 24 altercation and for that reason, any criminal charges would likely to be dismissed by a judge,
A number of members of the legislature have said they don’t believe that was the intent of the Stand Your Ground Law, but so far, no action has been taken to further clarify that the law wasn’t designed to provide an additional level of protection from prosecution for law enforcement officers.
Although since the incident with Lofton, several local policy changes have been implemented to address handling of teens who are in a mental health crisis and also on the use of prone restraint, there’s a growing desire to have laws passed codifying those policies on a state level. .
There’s also an effort underway to change the state’s foster care system to allow a new permanency option for youth 16 and older in the foster care system. This new option would allow these youth to select a person to be their “legal adult.” Under this program, the youth could select a person they care about, or a mentor in the community to serve in this role, instead of having no, to little say, in who serves this role in their life.
This is a bill that supporters are hoping to introduce during the upcoming legislative session.