The death of a Black teenager who lost consciousness after being handcuffed and restrained at a juvenile detention center in Kansas has been ruled a homicide, according to an autopsy report released this week.
The findings contradict a preliminary autopsy report which suggested that 17-year-old Cedric Lofton didn't suffer life-threatening injuries prior to his September death while being held at the youth facility.
The autopsy released this week from the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Center cites a law enforcement timeline and unreleased video of the incident, and paints a disturbing portrait of the final moments of Lofton’s life.
Authorities arrested Lofton in Wichita on Sept. 24 after he began “exhibiting erratic and aggressive behavior toward his foster family,” according to the report. Police then brought the teenager to the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center. After Lofton reportedly began fighting with staff at the juvenile center in the early morning hours, the teen's ankles were shackled, he was rolled onto his abdomen, and his wrists were handcuffed behind his back at 5:08 a.m.
The autopsy said that Lofton “calmed down” and made “occasional snoring sounds,” but four minutes later, staff members couldn't find a pulse, began chest compressions, and called for emergency medical assistance. Lofton remained unconscious and died two days later in a local hospital. The autopsy also said that Lofton tested positive for coronavirus at the time of his death.
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Timothy S. Gorrill declared in the autopsy that the cause of death was “complications of cardiopulmonary arrest sustained after physical struggle while restrained in the prone position.”
The prone position—laying someone facedown on their stomach while restrained—has been linked to several deaths of individuals in police custody, including the murder of George Floyd. Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder in Floyd’s death.
After the autopsy report became public on Monday, the lawyers for Lofton's family released a statement urging the county district attorney's office to “pursue criminal charges against the law enforcement personnel responsible for Cedric’s death.”
“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,” wrote attorneys Steven Hart and Andrew M. Stroth. “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.”
State and local authorities have said there is an active investigation into the death of Cedric Lofton and that they are reviewing the autopsy results. The corrections employees allegedly involved in the incident have been placed on paid administrative leave this week until local authorities finish their investigation.
The release of the autopsy Monday has led to renewed calls for the release of video that reportedly show what happened inside the juvenile center.
Wichita Vice Mayor Brandon Johnson has seen some of the police body camera footage before Lofton entered the juvenile center, but was left with additional questions related to the teens death and called for more transparency in the case on Tuesday.
“How did those injuries get sustained? How did he get to a point where he wasn’t breathing,” asked Johnson, in an interview with local media. “I think oftentimes, we fear releasing videos because, you know, of what that might do in the community for some, but I think for everybody else, it’s, you know, if a mistake was made, own up to it, show us, and then do something about it.”