Protections for foster children and foster parents, provisions for early intervention in mental health services would be required if Legislature Act; Stand Your Ground Law would be reviewed
By P.J. Griekspoor and Bonita Gooch | The Community Voice
A presentation was made by Sedgwick County officials to a Joint Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee on the progress being made on the 58 recommendations designed to address system and policy issues that led to the death of 17-year-old Cedric Lofton while in custody at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC).
The recommendations were made by a community task force appointed by Sedgwick County and City of Wichita officials in response to Lofton’s death in September 2021. The committee was made up of a cross-section of citizens, some with professionally related skills, who presented their recommendations earlier this year.
The report on progress on the recommendations was made during a special three-day hearing held in Topeka Nov 28-30.
Because Lofton was a foster child, experiencing a mental episode, who was picked up by Wichita police after a 911 call was made, and he was transported to a Sedgwick County facility, the task force’s recommendations covered recommendation for improvements to policies, procedures, and training within the state’s foster care system, Comcare Mental Health services, 911 communications, the Wichita Police Department and JIAC.
Dashboard of what’s done and not done
The Task force has established an online dashboard where members of the community can keep up with which of the recommendations have been implemented. Out of the 58 total recommendations, 26 are identified as being implemented and 26 are identified as in progress, although it’s not clear how much “progress” has been made on these items, which account for nearly half of the task force’s recommendations. Six items are identified as not being implemented, which must mean — since they’re not in progress — that absolutely no action has been taken on them.
County Commissioner Lacey Cruse said The Voice is right in questioning what exactly “in progress” means, especially when no other explanation is given on what “progress” has been undertaken.
Cruse, who didn’t support the creation of the task force and called for an outside investigation into the incident and all departments involved, maintains the process is “just paying lip service,” with no one really wanting to take responsibility, especially Sedgwick County who Lofton’s family has filed a civil lawsuit against.
State Action Wanted
Some of the task force’s recommendations included advocating for the passage of several state-level bills and a review of the state’s “Stand Your Ground Law” that Sedgwick County District Atty. Mark Bennett used this as his reason for not charging any of the officers in the death of Lofton, even though – similar to George Floyd – he was held down in a prone position until he was dead.
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D-Wichita), a member of the joint committee, said “Cedric was a bright, good kid who was doing well in school. He was being raised by his grandmother and she died. That’s how he wound up in foster care.” She said the committee learned that while in foster care, he had not received the help he needed to work through his grief from the loss of his grandmother.
“This is a child who the system failed over and over,” she said.
Foster Care Bill Named for Gail Finney
Faust-Goudeau was successful in a motion to re-name a bill after late KS Rep. Gail Finney (D – Wichita) who championed the two bills establishing a Foster Youth and Foster Parent Bill of Rights. Passage of both bills, HB2468 and HB2469, introduced by Finney in the 2022 legislative session, were among the recommendations proposed by the Sedgwick County Task force.
The laws, if passed, would make the rights of both foster parents and foster children clear. The task force asked Sedgwick County to add both bills to its 2023 Legislative Agenda. Adding the bills to their legislative agenda means the County’s lobbyist would actively work for passage of the bill, and move that would also help gain the support of members of the legislature elected to represent Sedgwick County.
Stand Your Ground Law
Another recommendation from the Sedgwick County task force was “requesting a legislative post-audit be conducted to examine the implications of the “Stand Your Ground” laws, particularly as it relates to incidents involving law enforcement.”
Stand Your Ground Laws, often referred to as “Castle Doctrines,” give individuals the right to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect themselves against an intruder in their home.
After an investigation, DA Bennett said he couldn’t charge the JIAC officers with Lofton’s death, because they were just defending themselves against Lofton, who in video is seen pushing back against the officers.
“I think it is particularly important that we need to look at all the implications of that law, especially as it relates to incidents involving law enforcement,” Faust-Goudeau said.
So far, no one can find an example of an officer in Kansas killing an individual being held in their custody, using Stand Your Ground as protection from being charged with murder.
Faust-Goudeau said, “it’s like someone comes to my door, I pull them in the house and kill them and then claim I was standing my ground.”
Her point: the JIAC staff brought Lofton into their facility (home), killed him and then wanted to claim they were standing their ground.
Faust-Goudeau has had changes drafted to the state’s Stand Your Ground Law she feels will make it clear the law is not meant to protect police officers. Several other organizations are also planning on introducing revisions to the law, with similar goals in mind.
A final state-level action the task force is recommending is the enactment of SB 12, also from the 2022 session, which would require DCF to develop a plan to implement a set of performance-based contracts to provide for an array of evidence-based prevention and early intervention services.
This article was republished here with the permission of: The Community Voice