Cedric Lofton’s missing headstone and the slow road of justice
In a Wichita cemetery, an unmarked grave is decorated with flowers, pictures and stones that say, “We miss you.” This is where Cedric Lofton is buried. This weekend, as on most holidays, Lofton’s brother Mark Teetz will visit and remember his baby brother.
Lofton was a 17-year-old Black kid from Wichita who was living in the foster care system. Just days before his 18th birthday he suffered injuries while in juvenile custody at the Juvenile Assessment and Intake Center. He was held down for over 30 minutes by the intake staff, which directly resulted in his death two days later in the hospital, according to the coroner who labeled the death a homicide.
While Lofton’s foster agency St. Francis Ministries paid for half of the funeral expenses, they did not help provide a headstone. Instead that expense was left up to a family who did not have the money to provide one. St. Francis Ministries had no legal obligation to do so. Now one year later, Cedric Lofton will have a headstone thanks to One Simple Wish, a nonprofit that grants the wishes of children who were in the foster care system.
Getting a headstone for his brother is another win in the slow slog for justice being undertaken by Lofton’s family and his community advocates.
A community task force was formed in Wichita to look at the case. They offered over 60 recommendations to the foster care agency, Wichita Police Department, Sedgwick County and the Kansas Department of Corrections.
The family of Cedric Lofton seeks justice
In a phone interview this week, Teetz vowed that 2023 will be a year when he fights harder than he has before.
“I know with George Floyd there was action in Wichita. CJ told me that. I’ve got to figure out what it’s going to take to wake these people up and shake these streets. In 2023, I want these streets shaking,” Teetz said.
Lofton’s brother is also pursuing a federal civil lawsuit against the county government and workers involved with Lofton’s death. The lawsuit argues the issues that caused Lofton’s death were known by the county and ignored.
The lawsuit heavily cites a 2016 investigation by the Kansas Department of Corrections which claimed JIAC staff was not adequately trained to handle youth in mental health crises. It then says that the training had not improved in the five years leading up to Lofton’s death.
“KDOC noted systemic deficiencies at JIAC, including its inability to handle children with mental health issues, its need for training on de-escalation techniques and management of risk, and its need for assistance in dealing with a Wichita Police Department who too often dropped juveniles at JIAC’s door as a form of punishment while refusing any obligation to transport such juveniles for mental health treatment,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also alleges unnecessary escalation by Wichita police, and it makes note of Lofton’s intake form that was changed by Wichita police, a fact that was uncovered by the community task force.
The task force found gaps in JIAC’s training, too, and issued recommendations. These included better crisis intervention training, diversity training and more.
The lawsuit is seeking damages and attorney fees. The county and city state they are unable to comment on ongoing legal cases.
For Mark Teetz, justice for Cedric Lofton means change
Teetz also wants to see systemic change and for the workers involved with his brother’s death to be held accountable.
None of the workers involved with Lofton’s death was charged with any crime or removed from their position. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett cited Kansas’ “Stand Your Ground” law in his decision to not prosecute any of the staff.
Bennett states that there is no proof that the workers were acting in self-defense and no proof that they were not. Due to the lack of evidence, Bennett said he thought it inappropriate to charge the workers.
In an interview with The Wichita Beacon in September, Bennett said that he has never heard of an officer being prosecuted for murder for actions committed while on the job in Kansas since the Stand Your Ground law was passed.
“More than anything, I want (the JIAC staff involved) to be punished in some way. I feel like they should be locked up or fired…,” Teetz said in a Q&A with the Wichita Beacon.
Teetz and other activists created a petition in September to have the JIAC workers removed from their jobs.
“The progress made in the death of CJ has been a journey in itself along with the healing of his loved ones. It has been touching to the community as well… We still continue to push for justice for Cedric Lofton,” said Nykia Gatson, a youth justice advocate and friend to Teetz.
This fall, The Beacon produced a video series exploring the death of Cedric Lofton. Now, after a month of reporting, editing, interviewing and more, there are more than eighteen minutes of video about this tragic case. To make watching the full series easier, we have combined them into one video. You can watch the full series here.
Drafting a bill to prevent another tragedy
Concurrently, they are in the early stages of drafting a bill to make sure another death like Lofton’s doesn’t happen again. They have been talking with the Kansas Appleseed organization to help with the bill. In 2016 the Kansas Juvenile Justice Reform Act, or Senate Bill 367, was passed with help from Kansas Appleseed’s Kansans United for Youth Justice. That bill’s main goal was to reduce the number of youth incarcerated within Kansas by finding alternatives for out-of-home placement and incarceration.
Ultimately, Teetz mainly wants people to remember his younger brother – his laugh, his sense of humor, his music and the way that he approached the world. Lofton’s headstone will be a part of that remembrance.
“I want him remembered how he really was; always funny, entertaining people, making music in school, getting A’s and B’s and about to graduate. An innocent child was murdered for no reason. He was just trying to survive under his circumstances,” Teetz said.