An employee at a Kansas juvenile center has come forward alleging a member of the Wichita Police Department changed crucial data on an intake form, resulting in a teen being mistreated and dying while in custody.
The choice to switch the categorization of the boy, deciding not to classify him as needing medical attention, resulted in the teen being denied the medical release he was entitled to and exposed him to the conflict that eventually took his life.
According to NBC News, on Sept. 24, 2021, when 17-year-old Cedric Lofton was booked at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC) a question emerged on the paperwork about the boy’s state of mental health.
Jodi Tronsgard, the employee charged with the oversight of the admissions process at the juvenile center, said one of the officers on the site was stumped at the question and went to discuss the answer with other officers who had participated in the erratic arrest. When this officer returned, he said they opted to answer the question regarding medical assistance with a “no.”
At a March 7 Sedgwick County Community Task Force meeting, Tronsgard told the assembly the cop said to her “We are going to go with no.”
She informed the officer of the consequences of this classification, “If you answer ‘yes’ to these questions, you must leave and take the youth for a medical or mental health release. And then, hearing that, he goes and then answers ‘no’ to these questions.”
At the time of Lofton’s detainment, Lofton’s foster father called law enforcement to help secure the teen early around 1 am on a Friday.
Police bodycam shows the responding officers talking to the boy for approximately an hour, trying to persuade him to go to the hospital for medical attention. However, a withdrawn Lofton is seen not engaging the officers.
At a certain point, Lofton and the officers get into a physical struggle, leading the cops to subdue the teen by binding his feet and legs while placing his wrists in handcuffs. This procedure is called a WRAP restraint.
Audio from the bodycam captures the officers mulling over the nature of Lofton’s mental health and trying to decide where to take him: JIAC or Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph, a medical facility where he could receive a mental health evaluation.
They eventually decide in front of his home to take him to the juvenile corrections center. When the officers took him to JIAC, they said he was “behaving oddly” and was showing signs of “acute illness” and “intoxication.”
Advocates for Lofton say this was misread and he was actually having a mental health crisis at the time.
Upon hearing how the officers opted to criminalize his mental health need, Marquetta Atkins, a member of the task force, said she was angry.
“It’s horrible,” Atkins said about the decision to amend the intake form. “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.”
According to Andrew M. Stroth, a lawyer for Lofton’s family, this information about the officers amending the intake form, shows how unscrupulous the officers were in this case.
“If the WPD officer followed standard policies and procedures,” the attorney said. “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.”
The task force created to review this case submitted recommendations to the city of Wichita and county leaders.
One recommendation, KSNW reports, is to have better video with audio in the facility. Another recommendation is for the center to add more staff proficient in dealing with mental health calls. A recommendation was made to evaluate and change the foster system and how the Department for Children & Families (DCF) handles cases in the city.
The city and county leaders will have 90 days to review the suggestions and create a budget to implement these changes.
When talking about the night of the boy’s intake, taskforce member C. Richard Kirkendoll said, “tensions got high.”
The recommendations, according to Kirkendoll, will help programmatically create systems for people to take a beat and for cooler heads to prevail. He said, “I think we came up with some good recommendations that’s going to help further lessen the chance of this incident ever happening again.”
Around 4:20 am, on the night he was brought in, the JIAC intake officer came to the boy’s cell and invited Lofton out into the lobby so he could explain the center’s intake process. Within ten minutes of the intake officer bringing him out of the cell, he moved to call a corrections officer in to restrain the teenager.
By 4:27 am an altercation breaks out. Lofton is seen on surveillance video punching one worker in the face. After the strike, the two men double-teamed the 153-lb. Lofton and wrestle him to the ground. Then two additional employees come in, adding to the move to overwhelm the boy, leading to his eventual death.
The staff members were never charged for the death of Lofton. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said the men involved in the fatal restraint entitled to a self-defense claim under the state’s “stand your ground” law.