BELLE PLAINE, Kan. -- Multiple staff members at a Kansas juvenile facility engaged in a physical struggle with a 17-year-old youth who was restrained and died two days later at a hospital, authorities said.
Details of the events leading up to the in-custody death of Cedric "CJ' Lofton emerged late Tuesday in a news release from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation that also identified the Wichita teen for the first time.
An autopsy has been conducted and a cause of death is pending further investigation and toxicology results, the agency said.
The Black teenager's encounter with law enforcement authorities began at about 1 a.m. Friday when officers from the Wichita Police Department responded to a disturbance call and found Lofton outside a house. The teen appeared paranoid and was behaving erratically, the KBI said. Officers tried to convince him to voluntarily seek mental health treatment before trying to take him into custody. He resisted by assaulting the officers, according to the release.
After a physical struggle, he was arrested on suspicion of battery of a law enforcement officer. A police report from that incident indicates all three police officers involved were white men.
Lofton was taken to the Sedgwick County juvenile intake and assessment center in a WRAP restraint system, a device described by the sheriff’s office as a way to restrain a person who's “out of control” so they don't hurt themselves or others. The device is comprised of a locking shoulder harness, leg restraints and ankle straps.
Once he was at the facility, that device and handcuffs were removed and he was placed in a single holding cell, authorities said.
“When we left the facility, the individual was upright and communicating,” said police spokesman Charley Davidson.
Lofton was later allowed out of the holding cell to use the restroom. When a staff member at the juvenile center tried to escort him back to the holding cell, Lofton assaulted the staff member, according to the KBI news release.
The KBI said multiple corrections staff engaged in “a lengthy physical struggle” to get him into the holding cell and place him in handcuffs. A police report shows there were Black, white and Hispanic staff at the facility.
Once Lofton was under control, corrections staff monitoring him noticed he was unresponsive.
Life-saving measures were initiated, the KBI said. Emergency medical responders transported him to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 1:55 a.m. Sunday.
A youth justice organization, Progeny, has called for “a transparent and thorough investigation.”
“This is a tragic example of the immense harm caused when young people are placed behind bars, and much worse, restrained like animals under the supervision of adults who are supposed to keep them safe,” the group said in a written statement. “These facilities are devastating our community. They need to be stopped.”
Wichita pastor Maurice “Moe” Evans, a director at the Community Empowerment and Resilience Coalition, called the WRAP restraint “a torture device” that restricts a person's comfort, breathing and circulation. He said authorities don't know if Lofton's injuries came from the police officers' use of the WRAP or from the later altercation at the intake center.
“Something was clearly done incorrectly because the claim that he was just suddenly fine and then all of a sudden went unresponsive and then passed away two days later — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “There are some extenuating circumstances here that they are not yet sharing. We will get to the bottom of it.”
The WRAP is used in more than 1,400 hospitals, youth detention facilities, sheriff’s offices and police departments where people have to deal with combative subjects, said Charles Hammond, president and chief executive officer of Safe Restraints Inc., the company that makes it.
Its purpose is to quickly stop conflict to prevent injury and death, allowing a person to be seated upright so that medical care can be provided, he said, adding the restraint is not a pain tool. It reduces mobility with no breathing restriction, he said.
Evans has also set up a GoFundMe account for the teen’s mother, Sarah Harrison.
“The community is preparing to organize around this so this is not something that is just going to go away,” Evans said. “We are going to find justice for the mom.”
This story has been corrected to show that the name of the teen’s mother is Sarah Harrison, not Dreamacia Harrison. It also corrects that pastor Maurice “Moe” Evans is a director at the Community Empowerment and Resilience Coalition, not the pastor of Pure Heart Worship Center.