The death of a Black 17-year-old who was handcuffed and restrained in the prone position while in law enforcement custody in September was ruled a homicide Monday, according to a Sedgwick County, Kansas, autopsy report.
The cause of death was “complications of cardiopulmonary arrest sustained after physical struggle while restrained in the prone position,” Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Timothy S. Gorrill wrote in the report.
The teenager, Cedric Lofton, had exhibited “erratic and aggressive behavior toward his foster family” on September 24 in Wichita and assaulted officers who responded to the scene, the autopsy notes. He was then moved to the custody of the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center after being booked for four counts of battery of a law enforcement officer, a county news release said.
The autopsy, citing video footage from the facility and a timeline of events from law enforcement, says Lofton was uncooperative and agitated and punched a JIAC staff member. Staff members restrained him, placed shackles on his ankles, rolled him into the prone position and handcuffed his hands behind his back at 5:08 a.m., the autopsy states.
He “calmed down” and made “occasional snoring sounds,” the autopsy states. At 5:12 a.m., staff members did not find a pulse, and so began chest compressions and called for emergency services.
Lofton remained unresponsive and died two days later.
The autopsy determined his death was a homicide. The report notes that his urine drug screen was positive for cannabinoids and that he tested positive for Covid-19. He weighed 135 pounds, the report states.
The teenager’s death is one of a number connected to individuals being restrained in the prone position, in which a person is forced to lie facedown and on their stomach. The position can limit a person’s ability to properly breathe and get enough oxygen to the heart and brain.
During former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd, for example, a series of medical experts for the prosecution testified that the prone restraint contributed to his death.
The county medical examiner ruled his official cause of death as “cardiopulmonary arrest” that occurred during “law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” Chauvin was convicted of murder in the case.
However, competing experts often hired by law enforcement defendants have challenged this medical analysis and suggested the prone position does not put someone at an increased risk of dying in custody, as The New York Times documented in detail earlier this week.
Family calls for criminal charges
Following the autopsy results, Sedgwick County announced that corrections employees involved in the incident were placed on paid administrative leave pending results of an investigation by the district attorney. County officials declined to comment, citing the investigation.
District Attorney Marc Bennett said his office was in the process of reviewing the autopsy as well as an investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office.
“When a charging decision has been finalized, the public will be notified,” Bennett said.
Attorneys speaking on behalf of Lofton’s family called on the district attorney to press charges against those responsible for his death.
“As supported by the video evidence, these individuals unjustifiably and with excessive and unreasonable force pinned Cedric to the ground, ultimately killing the unarmed, 135-pound, 17-year-old African American teenager,” attorneys Steven Hart and Andrew M. Stroth said in a statement.
“Cedric’s family anxiously awaits the findings of the criminal investigation and believes the Sedgwick County District Attorney should pursue criminal charges against the law enforcement personnel responsible for Cedric’s death. Cedric’s death was caused by the hands of the very authorities that were obligated to protect him and make sure he was safe. Instead, they killed him with conscious disregard for the young life in their keeping.
“This is a tragedy of epic proportions! These senseless killings by authorities must stop! Cedric and his family deserved better. Cedric’s family will not rest until they have secured justice for him,” the statement said.
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