Forensic pathologist offers insight into autopsy findings on Cedric Lofton

Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 8:56 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Eyewitness News is taking a closer look at the events that led to Cedric Lofton’s death after the autopsy determined the teen’s manner of death a homicide. The autopsy showed that corrections staff at the Juvenile Intake Assessment Center in Wichita placed the 17-year-old face down in a prone position for up to 39 minutes. The prone position is defined as “a body position in which the person lies flat with the chest down and the back up.”

Forensic pathologist Dr. Priya Banerjee said the prone position is controversial in law enforcement and it’s come up in cases including the deaths of George Floyd and Eric Garner. The position is controversial because it can restrict a person’s ability to breathe. Dr. Banerjee said 39 minutes is a long time to be placed in a prone position.

Lofton died at a Wichita hospital on the morning of Sept. 26, while in Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC) custody. This was two days after police responded to his foster father’s home after a caller reported Lofton having a mental health breakdown and paranoia. The teen was arrested.

Lofton’s family asks for criminal charges in the 17-year-old’s in-custody death, believing staff at the Juvenile Intake Assessment Center are at fault.

The autopsy report shows shackles were placed on Lofton’s ankles and he was moved to the floor and placed in prone position at 4:33 a.m. on Sept. 24. The report says Lofton continued to struggle with staff while restrained and handcuffs were applied to his hands behind his back at 5:08 a.m. The autopsy report says at this point, Lofton started to “calm down,” making occasional sounds described as snoring. At 5:12 a.m., the report says, staff couldn’t find a pulse and rolled Lofton onto his back to begin chest compressions.

Following the timeline is what shows that Lofton may have been in the prone position for up to 39 minutes.

“Any time restraints are put into play, meaning handcuffs or ankle restraints, like shackles and the person is prone, that puts them into higher risk for death, as well,” Dr. Banerjee said. “I think, you know, again, I’m just commenting on what’s known, but the time that you mentioned, 40 or so minutes, is rather long to me. I have not seen you know, that long a restraint done, and that could be one of the significant factors in his death.”

Dr. Banerjee said she is well-versed in the potential dangers of the prone position, a position the U.S. Justice Department warned law enforcement about in 1995, stating, “as soon as the suspect is handcuffed,” get them off their stomach,” adding that the possibility of asphyxia, also known as sudden death, is increased following a violent struggle, particularly when in a face-down position.

The Sedgwick County medical examiner determined the cause of death as cardiac arrest sustained while restrained in the prone position.

“Prone position is necessary to maybe subdue the person and restrain them. And then once that’s done, they’re supposed to be put on their side or stood up or whatever it may be to basically free up the chest and abdomen to allow for breathing,” Dr. Banerjee said.

The entire timeline of events concerning Lofton’s death is coming from the autopsy report.

The Wichita branch of the NAACP on Tuesday issued a statement including Lofton’s death among “preventable tragedies (that) further erode the trust between law enforcement and the Black community,” and that “It is time to admit certain fundamental platforms of our criminal justice system are in desperate need of reform.”

“Reforms at the administrative and legislative levels must be implemented immediately. If not, we will continue to suffer from a broken criminal justice system and malfeasance by those who violate their oath to practice equality and service at every level. It is now in the hands of the District Attorney’s Office to bring charges and ensure those individuals are held accountable for this grave injustice,” the statement read. “It is now in the hands of the District Attorney’s Office to bring charges and ensure those individuals are held accountable for this grave injustice.”

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