Legal experts explain role of ‘stand your ground’ law in Cedric Lofton case

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – When Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett explained why he was not filing charges in the case surrounding Cedric Lofton’s death, he also mentioned the constraints with Kansas’ broad “stand your ground” law. That law and the cases that have applied to it were the bases for Bennett’s decision, announced Tuesday.

The Kansas legislature passed the current “stand your ground” in 2010, laying out when use-of-force is allowed for self defense and that there is no duty to retreat when feeling under threat. Bennett said there has been frustration for some in the Kansas legal community when it comes to the extent of this law, but it’s not likely the legislature will change it.

“Over the last several years, we have had a litany of cases which has shown any attorney, any prosecutor in the state, that we have one o the most robust ‘stand your ground’ laws,” Bennett said.

HE said after Lofton punched one of the staff members at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC), the state’s “stand your ground” law and self-defense immunity applies.

“The workers were acting in self defense under Kanas law,” Bennett said. “They’re at work, they’re authorized to do this and case law has made it clear.”

The DA said he questioned during the 35 minutes Lofton was in the cell, face down in the prone position with restraints, “did it go from lawful to unlawful?”

“The only way I can overcome that presumption that they can’t be charged is if I can show, one, they honestly didn’t believe the use of force was necessary in the circumstances. There’s no way I can prove that. They honestly thought what they were doing was the right thing,” Bennett said. “And then, whether a reasonable person would not believe the use of force was necessary.”

Eyewitness News also spoke with defense attorney Charley O’Hara. He has no connection with the Lofton case, but said he has some questions after reading Bennett’s report. Among them is a clear explanation for why staff at JIAC thought Lofton needed to be restrained and on the floor for 35 minutes.

“You’ve got somebody restrained. Well, how are you restraining them? Is that reasonable? I understand they can defend themselves but once he’s handcuffed and shackled, I don’t know that there’s a whole lot [Lofton] could have done,” O’Hara said.

He said the “stand your ground” law is something he commonly uses. He said the key word is “reasonable.”

“If someone comes up and slaps you you don’t have a right to shoot them in the head with a gun. You have to reasonably respond to what happened,”

O’Hara added that prosecutors have a responsibility to not file a case if they can’t prove probable cause. But he said in a case like this…

“Community has a lot of questions and I assume a lot of the community would like [those] answered by a judge or jury.”

O’Hara said civil action is an option. Bennett said since he became Sedgwick County’s DA in 2013, there have been 33 civilian cases where a suspect in someone’s death was not charged because of self-defense immunity. Those include three cases Bennett said he filed but were then thrown out by a judge because of the state’s ‘stand your ground’ law. There were also 13 officer-involved fatality cases that fell under self-defense immunity.”

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