A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed Monday by the family of Cedric Lofton, a Kansas foster youth who was killed in September by local juvenile justice authorities.
Cedric died after being held in a face-down prone restraint for more than 30 minutes by several youth corrections officers. His foster father had called 911 for help getting emergency mental health care for the 17-year-old, but police who responded to the call brought him to a juvenile intake center rather than a health care facility. The county medical examiner deemed the cause of death to be homicide as a result of the restraint, but the state’s district attorney declined to file charges against those involved, saying they were protected by Kansas’ “stand your ground” law.
The suit, brought on behalf of Cedric’s older brother Marquan Teetz, alleges that the 17-year-old’s constitutional rights were violated by five officers who were involved in the restraint or failed to intervene. Their actions constitute excessive force, the suit contends, noting that the 135-pound teen was unarmed and already restrained by both leg shackles and handcuffs when the five adult officers held him in the lengthy physical restraint that led to his death.
The juvenile center employees named in the suit are Jason Stepien, Brenton Newby, Karen Conklin, Billy Buckner and Benny Mendoza.
Defendants also include ten as yet unnamed Wichita police officers involved with the case who failed to bring Cedric in for necessary medical care, as well as Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita for failing to properly train employees to respond to youth in mental health crises. In addition to bringing Cedric into the juvenile intake center rather than a health care facility, police officers falsified information about the teen’s condition on the admissions form that would have required them to take him to a hospital, and juvenile center employees knew the answers had been changed but still allowed Cedric to be left there.
The complaint points to indications that state officials have long known about signs of trouble at the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC) where Cedric was killed. According to the suit, a 2016 report by the Kansas Department of Corrections “noted systemic deficiencies at JIAC, including its inability to handle children with mental health issues, its need for training on deescalation techniques and management of risk.”
The report also noted that city police officers too frequently brought youth to the intake center “as a form of punishment while refusing any obligation to transport such juveniles for mental health treatment,” according to the complaint.
Teetz, as the representative of Cedric Lofton’s estate, is represented by Andrew M. Stroth of Action Injury Law Group, Steven Hart of Hart, McLaughlin and Eldridge, and Kansas-based attorney Ben Stelter-Embry.
Teetz is demanding unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and a jury trial.