An employee at a Wichita, Kansas, juvenile center said a police officer changed his answers on an intake form for a 17-year-old who was in custody, potentially preventing the teenager from receiving medical care that, according to his family’s lawyer, would have saved his life.
Staff members at Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center held Cedric Lofton down for more than 30 minutes during a struggle with authorities after his arrest around 1 a.m. on Sept. 24, 2021. Advocates have said the teenager, who was in foster care, had been experiencing a mental health crisis at the time.
Authorities said Lofton had been “behaving oddly” when he arrived at the center. The Wichita Eagle recently reported that, as a result, an officer initially indicated on an intake form that Lofton showed signs of “acute illness” and “intoxication.”
The officer then left to consult other officers on how to categorize Lofton’s state, Jodi Tronsgard, who oversees admissions at the juvenile center, said at a March 7 Sedgwick County Community Task Force meeting. When the officer returned to Lofton, he decided not to classify him as needing medical attention, saying, according to Tronsgard, “‘We are going to go with no.’”
Tronsgard continued: “So, he was informed that if you answer ‘yes’ to these questions, you have to leave and take the youth for a medical or mental health release. And then, hearing that, he goes and then responds ‘no’ to these questions.”
The news infuriated advocates like Marquetta Atkins, a member of the task force, who told NBC News that if the form had not been amended, Lofton likely would have been taken to a hospital instead of fatally restrained at the facility. The teen died two days after he was initially detained. A coroner ruled his death a homicide from “complications of cardiopulmonary arrest sustained after physical struggle while restrained in the prone position.”
Atkins told NBC News that Lofton had been in and out of foster care and was dealing with the recent death of his grandmother at the time of his arrest. She said she was angry when she learned of the amended intake form.
“It’s horrible,” said Atkins, who is also the executive director of Progeny, a Wichita-based grassroots organization that advocates for youth caught in the juvenile justice system. “Something so simple could have changed that child’s life. From beginning to end, they have handled this situation wrong. The only person that’s been held accountable for Cedric Lofton’s death is Cedric Lofton.”
A spokesperson for the intake center did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.
A county review of the incident found that Lofton had a bloody nose and began to “snore” after being restrained for so long. Within minutes, he was silent and authorities could find no pulse. Officials took him to a hospital after performing chest compressions; he was declared dead on Sept. 26.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett declined to file charges against the staff members who restrained Lofton, citing the state’s “stand your ground law” and claiming the staff members had been defending themselves. Andrew M. Stroth, an attorney for Lofton’s family, said that news of the amended intake form only illustrates questionable practices by the Wichita Police Department, which was recently criticized for failing to adequately discipline officers who exchanged racist, sexist and homophobic texts and images.
“If the WPD officer followed standard policies and procedures, Cedric would have been taken to the hospital and this 17-year-old young Black teenager would be alive today. At every level, the WPD, the foster care system and the Juvenile Intake Center failed Cedric,” Stroth told NBC News.
Wichita Police Officer Trevor Macy told NBC News that the department was aware of the claim and was investigating the matter.
Lofton was taken to the intake center after police responded to a call from his foster father around 1 a.m. Lofton reportedly “appeared paranoid and was behaving erratically”outside his foster father’s home, and officers tried to convince him to voluntarily go to a hospital, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. A struggle ensued and Lofton was restrained at his legs and torso and taken to the juvenile center for assaulting a police officer, the KBI said in a statement. There, officers fatally restrained Lofton after what the bureau described as a “lengthy physical struggle” with corrections staff.
Lofton’s foster father told authorities that Lofton had become “paranoid” in the month before his death and described seeing things that weren’t there, according to the county’s review of Lofton’s death. He said Lofton’s mental health grew “progressively worse” after the death of his grandmother, and even Lofton’s biological family warned his foster father that Lofton “was having either a mental breakdown and/or he was having an onset of schizophrenia.” Lofton’s foster father seemed worried in his call to police that morning, The Wichita Eagle reported.
“He’s really really paranoid,” he said in his 911 call. “Like, he thinks that everyone is trying to kill him.
Officials said in February that the FBI had begun investigating Lofton’s death, and the task force urged the Department of Justice to launch its own investigation. The status of the investigations is unclear.
“Somebody needs to be held accountable for why this child lost his life," Atkins said. "Why are we protecting systems more aggressively than what we’re doing to protect these vulnerable young people?”
Lofton’s death renewed criticism of “stand your ground” laws and highlights the lack of use-of-force laws to protect those 17 and under. Most law enforcement agencies don’t have clear protocols, and it is largely left up to individual officers to determine how they engage with minors.