A community task force reviewing the death of a Black teenager who was restrained for more than 30 minutes at a Kansas juvenile detention center found that an officer changed his answers on a form that otherwise would have led police to take the teen to a hospital instead of booking him into the detention center.
An official who oversees admissions to the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center, Jodi Tronsgard, told the task force last month that the officer initially reported that there were signs that 17-year-old Cedric Lofton needed medical attention before the officer changed his answers, The Wichita Eagle reported.
“What I learned after the intake is that the officer had presented this form and initially said yes, that there were signs of acute illness that appear to need immediate medical care. Yes, there were signs of intoxication with significant impairment in functioning,” Tronsgard told the task force on March 7. “...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.”
Interim police Chief Lem Moore said he wasn’t aware that the officer had changed his answers on the form until the newspaper asked about it. He said he has ordered a preliminary review of the case to determine if it’s possible the officer falsified information. “If issues are found, a full investigation will be conducted,” he said.
Lofton's foster father called authorities in September seeking help because the teenager was hallucinating. Police initially tried to persuade him to go to a mental health facility, but body camera video shows him refusing to go and then resisting when officers tried to force him.
Lofton then was taken to the detention center, where he was restrained after a struggle with staff members. He had to be resuscitated after he was held facedown, and he died two days later.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett declined to charge the detention center workers in January, citing the state's stand-your-ground self-defense law.
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He said told the newspaper for Sunday's story that he also didn’t have enough evidence when he reviewed the case to charge the officer with falsifying information on the form, but that he would be willing to examine any new information.
Emails obtained by the newspaper show that Bennett raised concerns that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent who was investigating Lofton's death had a pro-police bias, and the agent was later removed from the case. The agent did not ask the police officers who took Lofton to the detention center about the changed answers on the admission form.
Lofton's family's lawyer, Steven Hart, said the changed answers on the form raise additional questions about how police handled the case.
“That is the most disgusting display of a lack of professionalism — or care,” Hart said. “Essentially, it was easier for them to drop him off than do what they knew was necessary and right.”
County officials have said the FBI is reviewing Lofton’s death.