(CNN)A Kansas district attorney announced he will be filing no charges in connection with the death of Cedric Lofton, a Black teenager who died in law enforcement custody, citing the state's robust "stand your ground" law.
A Kansas DA cited stand your ground laws and announced no charges in death of teen in custody
Lofton, 17, died in September after being handcuffed and restrained in the prone position, meaning lying face-down, during a struggle with staff and corrections employees at a juvenile facility.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said at a Tuesday news conference that the employees involved acted in self-defense under the "stand your ground" law because the teen resisted and struggled with corrections staff and they, therefore, are immune from prosecution.
Lofton family lawyers disagreed, saying officers "took his breath away" by putting Lofton in the prone position. And they said Bennett's decision is another instance of no accountability for the death of an unarmed Black teen.
An autopsy report found in December that Lofton's cause of death was "complications of cardiopulmonary arrest sustained after physical struggle while restrained in the prone position." The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.
"The cause of death was brought about by the position in which Cedric was held as well as the ongoing struggle which lasted for over thirty minutes largely unabated," said a report released by Bennett. "The long-lasting struggle while in the face-down position impeded his breathing, which caused the supply of oxygen to his heart to be compromised to the point that his heart stopped."
Bennett's report includes a timeline of events leading up to the teenager's death, analyses of both the law and the forensic evidence and his conclusion. The video from what happened inside the juvenile facility has not been released by officials.
The prosecutor said Tuesday that while there was a "lot of opportunity" in that night for things to have gone differently, the employees involved acted in self-defense when they continued to restrain the teen because he continued to resist.
"The video, the interviews of all the employees and the coroner's findings regarding the effect of a prolonged struggle, support the conclusion that Cedric continued to offer resistance to the physical restraints being applied to his hands and legs. That he continued to resist for some thirty minutes meant the staff could continue to lawfully apply restraint," the report said.
Generally, "stand your ground" laws across the US allow people to respond to threats of force, without the fear of being criminally prosecuted, in any place where a person has the right to be, including his home or business. Under Kansas law, a person is justified in using force if they are acting in defense of themselves in those circumstances or to protect another party.
"You cannot be arrested, you cannot be charged, you cannot be prosecuted, if you're acting in self-defense in Kansas under the 'stand your ground' law," Bennett said, adding that Kansas has "one of the most robust 'stand your ground' laws in the United States."
His report added that the district attorney's conclusion "is not a reflection of this office's approval of what happened to Cedric Lofton, adding, "This should never have happened."
The county previously said the employees involved in the incident were placed on paid administrative leave pending results of the district attorney's investigation. A county spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday the corrections employees remain on administrative leave and officials will review their status in the next several days and "will make a determination on a timeline for returning to work."
Glenda Martens, director of the county's department of corrections, said at a separate news conference that the "employees acted well within the policy and the requirements of that policy."
"That doesn't mean we shouldn't review it and look for better recommendations," she added.
In a statement on behalf of the teen's family, who had previously called for criminal charges, civil rights attorneys Andrew M. Stroth and Steven Hart said they were "extremely troubled" by Bennett's decision not to prosecute.
"This is yet another instance of an unarmed Black teenager killed by law enforcement with impunity," and without "threat of reprisal or even an ounce of accountability," the statement said. "Similar to the George Floyd case, Cedric's death was caused by authorities obligated to protect him. In this case, they restrained Cedric in the prone position and took his breath away."
Martens announced Tuesday that the county would "immediately'" recruit community leaders to spearhead a task force that would examine the facility's procedures and what happened that night and make recommendations about any needed changes.
Among other things, the county will consider will be whether to add audio to the cameras at the juvenile facility where the incident took place, Martens said. Bennett said at his news conference that having audio in the case "would have been very helpful." The report also notes in one instance that without audio of the incident, there is no evidence to dispute the staff's claim that they did not hear Lofton ask for help or complain he could not breathe while he was on the floor.
Assistant County Manager Rusty Leeds said the county will release the juvenile facility footage -- which does not include audio -- to the public in the "very near future."
Late Tuesday, Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple released the body camera footage from all of the police officers involved in the incident.
Lofton, who was in foster care, returned to his home in the early morning hours of September 24, 2021. His father, who later told investigators the teen had recently began acting "paranoid," called 911 at the directive of the foster care agency.
After attempting to talk the teen into coming with them to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, Wichita police officers tried to take him to the patrol car and a struggle ensued. Lofton is heard yelling "help" multiple times, according to the footage.
Police placed the teen in leg shackles and in a "WRAP" restraint system which, according to the report, is a "canvass-type, movable plastic material used to wrap around the legs and arms/ lower torso of a person while in a seated position."
Lofton was taken to the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC) to be "processed for multiple counts of battery of a law enforcement officer," after "striking and kicking" officers who went to his home that night, the report said. Officers removed the restraint system and left Lofton in a holding room at the JIAC, where a staff member came by to explain the assessment process and let him into the open foyer, the report said.
Video from what happened inside the JIAC facility has not been released. Body camera video from officers stops when police left the teen at the juvenile facility and picks back up when they were called back later that night and the teen was no longer conscious.
According to the report, after Lofton was let out of the holding room, he approached the intake counter and grabbed the computer monitor. The JIAC employee told Lofton to step back, according to the district attorney's report.
The JIAC staff member and a Juvenile Detention Center (JDF) employee struggled to get Lofton back into a holding room and he struck one while trying to get away, the report said. "The men then acted in self-defense and continued to forcibly move Cedric toward the holding room." According to the report, employees told investigators that during the struggle, Lofton was "'mumbling' at times, repeated that he was 'Jesus,' said that staff should kill themselves and that he would 'hex' them."
After two corrections supervisors arrived, the group put leg shackles on Lofton and moved him from a seated position to "face down to better control the situation and possibly place handcuffs on Cedric," the report said. The group was also physically holding the teen down, according to the report.
One staff member told investigators that Lofton, who was still face down on the floor, "continued to argue and resist" and they could not put handcuffs on him as they waited for police to arrive after one employee called 911.
After more than 30 minutes on the floor, handcuffs were placed on Lofton, the report said.
Bennett, in his analysis of the JIAC facility video, said it did not appear that any of the workers put their full weight on the teen's back or torso, and the staffers were following their training to protect themselves and get Lofton to follow orders.
Two corrections members noticed some blood, the report said, adding the teen was later seen with a bloody nose. An officer who later arrived also noted the teen had a bloody nose, according to body camera footage.
Around the time handcuffs were applied, a little after 5 a.m., employees said Lofton "finally relaxed" and they heard the teen "snore," according to the report.
About four minutes later, a JIAC employee said he could not hear the teen breathing and could not find a pulse, the report said. Lofton was rolled onto his back but was not responsive after staff performed a sternum rub, which is used to try and assess if a person is conscious. Body camera footage shows workers attempting to revive Lofton.
The teen was taken to a hospital a little before 6 a.m. on September 24. Early on September 26, he was pronounced dead, the report said.
Whipple, the mayor, said the city will work together with the county to "take unprecedented action on how we handle crisis intervention in our community."
"As Mayor, I'm committed to changing the status quo in how we respond to those in crisis. The time for action is now," Whipple said in a Facebook post.