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Deep reporting tells of Black Kansas teen’s in-custody death

In this image from body camera video provided by Sedgwick County, Cedric “C.J.” Lofton, 17, growls and bites at police outside his home in Wichita, Kan., in a Sept. 24, 2021 image from body camera video provided by Sedgwick County. His foster father said when Cedric returned from the funeral of his grandmother in September, “it got progressively worse,” according to a prosecutor’s report. He described him as “paranoid.” (Sedgwick County via AP)

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Kansas City reporter Heather Hollingsworth and New York video journalist Luke Sheridan were the first to piece together video, records and interviews for an in-depth, multiformat story outlining how a Black teen in Kansas ended up in foster care and died at a juvenile intake center after being restrained on his stomach for 40 minutes.

AP had written previously about the death of Cedric “C.J.” Lofton, as well as the community outrage that followed and the prosecutor’s ultimate decision that the state’s stand-your-ground law meant prosecution would be futile.

But it seemed clear that C.J. had been let down many times by systems ostensibly meant to help him,so Hollingsworth watched hours of video from police body cameras and the intake center. She also reviewed the autopsy report,and a dense and damning report from the prosecutor.

She then set out to find out how C.J. came to be in foster care. State law allowed Kansas to deny records,but Hollingsworth learned C.J. was born in Texas,where she found criminal records for C.J.’s father that helped illuminate his childhood. She found his mother’s Kansas criminal records, and she obtained C.J.’s juvenile court file — dozens of documents.

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At left, Cedric “C.J.” Lofton, of Wichita, Kan., is shown in an April 21, 2019 photo provided by Sarah Harrison. Friends who met him in foster care describe Lofton as a goofball, fun loving, with a dark childhood that he hinted at but never talked about much. At right, staff members perform CPR on C.J. Lofton at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center in Wichita, Kan., in a Sept. 24, 2021 image from video provided by Sedgwick County. The final autopsy listed his cause of death as “complications of cardiopulmonary arrest sustained after physical struggle while restrained in the prone position.” – Courtesy Sarah Harrison via AP (left); Sedgwick County via AP

Hollingsworth also individually messaged all 200+ of C.J.’s Facebook friends — a tedious task that paid off with telling descriptions of his life,as well as his girlfriend’s phone number. C.J.’s friends also told her where to find the rap music he had posted online. It was violent,and his friends openly acknowledge he had been in a gang.

Sheridan,meanwhile, crafted an illuminating video from the most telling moments in the hours of footage and excerpts from Hollingsworth’s video interviews.

The result was a compelling package that revealed a troubled youth and the disturbing confluence of events and decisions leading to his death. The piece earned prominent placement on AP platforms and scored at the top for reader engagement.

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