You’ve heard the saying, “three wrongs don’t make a right.” Once again, and all to familiar, we have an incident involving the justice system where a number of wrongs ended with the death of someone who hadn’t committed a crime.
This time, a series of wrongs in Wichita led to the death of 17-year-old Cedric ”CJ” Lofton at the hands of those who were sent to help him.
Tough Early Years
Life hadn’t been easy for CJ and his now 20-year-old brother Marquan. Their mother had “issues,” and hadn’t been able to adequately care for them. While family members had tried to assist, CJ eventually ended up in Kansas’ foster care system.
Whether his mother Sara Harrison had mental or criminal issues, or a c combination of the two, isn’t the issue here, she wasn’t currently involved in his life. Additional, according to Marquan, C.J.’s father hadn’t been in his life since he was 3-years-ld.
Although the family had been living in Junction City, C.J. ended up in a foster home in Wichita, in a situation that Marquan said had been a positive one. In fact, Marquan said C.J. had a great relationship with his foster dad, who often referred to C.J. as his favorite son.
WRONG #1 Police respond when mental health professionals are what’s actually needed.
Like so many of these incidents have begun in the past, C. J.’s well-meaning foster parent called the police looking for support for C.J. who he said appeared to be having a mental health crisis.
According to reports the foster parent refused to let C.J. in the house out of fear he would hurt some of the other children and there was an immediate need to get C.J. out of the street and somewhere he could get help. According to reports, the family was told there wasn’t any available support in Wichita at the time and the nearest available support was ironically in Junction City. Because of the distance, all parties agreed to take C.J. to the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC) in south Wichita.
In too many justice systems across the country, including in Kansas and Wichita, to few resources are available to adequately address the overwhelming volume of mental health needs. With officers lacking the needed training, too many times things go wrong when police respond to mental health related calls. Too often, the call ends with the person the police were called to help being shot, tased, killed or wounded instead of them getting the help they need.
Even though Wichita have implemented some joint response units, most people agree it’s time to fully embrace alternatives like civilian-led crisis intervention teams composed of highly trained professionals, including nurses, doctors, psychiatrists, and social workers, to respond to incidents with people who are in mental health crises.
WRONG #2 Use of wrap restraint
During the call to C.J.’s foster home, he reportedly became combative and Wichita police officer used a wrap device to restrain him. The use of wrap technology has become more common as a “safe” restraint system designed to protect subjects, officers, and others in close proximity by reducing the possibility of injury and death. Yet, the internet is littered with reports of subjects being found dead during and after the use of these constraints.
Who Got it Right?
Right #1: WPD Chief Gordon Ramsay for calling in members of the community immediately to share video of their role in the actions leading up to CJ’s death.
RIGHT #2: Wichita NAACP for their measured, but timely response to the incident. The organization’s released statement was fair and calming instead of inflammatory and did not jump to conclusions. They clearly stated their reasonable requests to see the video and didn’t place blame without facts. In addition, they’ve quietly worked with Marquan and several family members out of state, who have an interest in getting the facts of what happened and not simply on capitalizing financially on the situation.