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County commissioner requests outside investigation into Wichita teen’s death

Deborah Shaar

A Sedgwick County Commissioner is calling for an investigation into the death of 17-year-old Cedric Lofton after the county district attorney decided to not press charges in his death last month.

Update: At a Sedgwick County Commission meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 2, Commissioner Jim Howell voiced his support for an outside investigation or a citizen's grand jury.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Lacey Cruse made a formal request for an outside investigation in the death of Cedric Lofton – but other commissioners are not supportive of it.

Cruse said the independent investigation would be in tandem with a joint task force put together by the county and city of Wichita.

“This isn’t either-or, this is all,” Cruse said. “Let’s do it all.

“Let’s do short-term and long-term. Let’s talk about how we have a real broken system. Let’s do short-term policy changes now, and then those long-term goals by someone who really is a neutral party.”

The task force has been asked to review the circumstances around Lofton’s death and to recommend policy changes to lawmakers at the city, county and state level. The task force is scheduled to have its first meeting on Thursday.

Lofton, 17, died in September after being taken to the county's Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center during a mental health crisis after his guardian called 911.

Cruse made the request to County Manager Tom Stolz and Commission Chair David Dennis after the county district attorney declined to press charges in the teen’s death.

Stolz said in an email to KMUW that an outside investigation or audit would have to be made through the commission.

The commission meets Wednesday.

“I know that my colleagues do care about this situation, and they have their reasons for supporting or not supporting,” Cruse said, “and that’s really all I’d like to say.”

Dennis and Commissioner Sarah Lopez said at a news conference last week, after Cruse made her request to the county manager, that an outside investigation would not be done.

“Anything beyond that is outside the scope of our authority and so we want to make sure what we’re doing is what we actually have the ability to do and change,” Lopez said, “and if we go outside of that, I worry that it could muddy the waters and we can’t get as much done.”

One member of the joint task force said that they think an outside investigation is necessary.

"I think if something like this goes without criminal charges for those responsible, it will send a message that if you're a young person in distress, or if this happens again, our state believes nothing can be done about it," Jazmine Rogers with Progeny, a juvenile justice non-profit, said.

Local activists have also called for the Department of Justice to investigate Lofton’s case for civil rights violations.

The department declined to comment on the matter.

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.