Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said she has ordered the Kansas Department for Children and Families to investigate a private foster care agency’s handling of Cedric Lofton, a 17-year-old Black foster child who died after being restrained on his stomach for over half an hour in September.
“This situation is tragic, and we must find a way to ensure something like this never happens again,” Kelly said in a written statement to The Eagle.
Lofton was arrested and taken to a juvenile detention facility early on Sept. 24 after his foster father refused to let him back into the house until he received a mental evaluation. The foster father said he was acting on the advice of a case worker with DCCCA, a private foster care agency that contracts with DCF.
What followed was a lengthy struggle between Lofton, Wichita police officers and later county juvenile detention staff that led to his death.
“I’ve also directed the Department for Children and Families to thoroughly investigate this case to ensure policy and procedures were properly followed, and to determine if these processes need to be changed or refined,” Kelly said in a written statement.
“In the meantime, I look forward to hearing recommendations from the District Attorney, the Legislature, and advocates on ways we can clarify or modify this law.”
Kelly’s statement came in response to a request for comment on a statement by Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, who announced last week that he would not pursue criminal charges in the case because of the state’s self-defense law, commonly referred to as “stand your ground.”
In Bennett’s written report on the Lofton case, he questioned whether the foster care agency acted properly.
“Whether the State of Kansas should accept a foster care system that responds to a foster father’s expression of concern that his foster son is in mental distress by telling the man, don’t let him in the house and call the police – is a legitimate question. A question, in fact, that may well demand answers,” Bennett said in his written report.
“This should never have happened,” Bennett said of Lofton’s in-custody death.
Wichita and Sedgwick County have released police body camera footage and surveillance video inside the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center.
The videos shows Wichita police officers arrested Lofton after he declined to willingly go to Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph hospital for a mental evaluation. Officers initiated physical contact with Lofton, and when he became combative, they handcuffed him and then placed him in a WRAP restraint, a canvas wrapped around the legs, arms and lower torso while the person is in a seated position, then strapped to immobilize the person and keep them from harming themselves or others.
Instead of taking him to St. Joseph, Wichita police took Lofton to JIAC on four counts of battering a law enforcement officer.
After he was removed from the WRAP and police left the scene, Lofton and JIAC staff became involved in another physical altercation, video shows.
A JIAC employee and several juvenile detention officers restrained Lofton inside a holding cell for nearly 45 minutes before noticing he did not have a pulse.
Officials have announced a joint city-county task force to review and recommend policy changes. State lawmakers have said they plan to discuss the case as early as this week.
A representative for the private foster agency told The Eagle that DCCCA does not have a specific procedure for advising foster parents on how to handle a child in crisis and that mental health crises are dealt with case by case.
“Foster care workers are 24/7, and so they respond if a kid is sick or if a kid is having behavioral issues or anything, so they’re there to guide a foster family through any sort of situation that may arise,” DCCCA spokesperson Alex Wiebel said.
Contributing: Matthew Kelly of The Wichita Eagle