Crime & Courts

He’s accused of kicking a Wichita toddler and yelling racial slurs. Now he’s free

A white man accused of kicking a 1-year-old black child in the back and yelling racial slurs in a Wichita grocery store bonded out of jail several hours after his arrest Sunday.

Now, the boy’s mother and grandmother say they fear that with the man back on the streets, another child could be attacked.

“I don’t understand: He’s out just hours after he attacked a baby,” said Yolanda Frierson, grandmother of 1-year-old Jhavii Fry.

“He could attack someone else’s kid . . . if he’s out and he’s everywhere,” said Jhavii’s mother, Lashantai Whitaker.

The man police arrested — Trace Riff, 31 — has a history of mental illness, homelessness, not reporting to parole officers, drug use and violent crimes, records show. He is on probation in Oklahoma for a felony meth charge.

In an interview Thursday afternoon, Whitaker recalled what happened around 7:20 Sunday morning: The family had just stepped into the Dillons grocery store at Douglas and Hillside. The 29-year-old Whitaker, who is pregnant and due to give birth in a couple months, was walking just ahead of her 11-year-old daughter, who was holding the hand of 1-year-old Jhavii. “It happened so fast,” she said.

Whitaker heard a thud. Her daughter screamed that a man had kicked her brother.

The man kicked her son from behind with his cowboy boot, causing the boy to fall face down, she said.

The man tried to leave the store but bystanders tackled him and held him until police arrived, she recalled.

The man went on a rant, Whitaker said, yelling the “N word” and saying he was a white supremacist.

“He sounded like a madman.”

Her son, who will turn 2 in June, began to scream, Whitaker said. “He’s never cried or screamed that loud” before.

The thick coat the boy wore protected him from the kick. Not even a bruise. Still, emergency workers checked him for injuries.

A witness told Whitaker that he saw the man kick her son. It’s not clear whether store video captured the incident. A Dillons corporate spokesman couldn’t be reached on Thursday.

What’s disturbing is that the man seemed to target only her young son, Whitaker said.

A Wichita police report says the incident was classified as a case of “battery” and “resist” where the man was suspected of using alcohol. A “personal weapon,” which would include a boot, was involved, the report said.

Riff was arrested and booked into the Sedgwick County jail on Sunday on suspicion of ethnic intimidation, battery and resisting police, an arrest report says.

Hours later, around 3:30 p.m., Riff was released from jail on his own recognizance, meaning he was released without making a payment. If he doesn’t show up to future court appearances, he will have to pay $3,500. Riff does not have any special bond conditions, sheriff’s Lt. Tim Myers said.

The boy’s grandmother, Frierson, said she feared that with a record of not reporting to authorities, Riff “could run.”

Because Riff is facing misdemeanor charges, the case will be handled by Wichita Municipal Court, not the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, DA spokesman Dan Dillon said Thursday.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, the Police Department said it “is investigating a racially motivated bias crime where (Riff) was arrested. . . . Through the investigation it was learned (Riff) walked into the . . . store and kicked a 1-year-old victim in the back causing the child to fall on the floor while yelling obscenities and racial slurs. (Riff) was booked for battery that was bias and racially motivated, as well as resist arrest.”

Riff’s arrest Sunday was his second encounter with Wichita police in two days and part of a pattern of behavior dating back years and spanning states, police and court records show.

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Trace Riff was booked into Sedgwick County jail Sunday and later released. Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office

A criminal history

The public record of Riff’s criminal past stretches back to 2002, when he was 15. He was arrested on suspicion of attempting to elude police, burglary and larceny of and from an automobile in Edmond, Oklahoma, after a police chase ended in a car crash, according to a report on NewsOK.com.

In Oklahoma City, Riff was convicted of DUIs in 2007 and 2008. The next year, he was convicted of domestic abuse. Four years later, he was convicted of possession of marijuana and public drunkenness, according to his criminal history worksheet filed in Sedgwick County District Court.

In Las Vegas, Riff was convicted of domestic battery in 2014, his criminal history shows.

By 2015, Riff was back in Oklahoma, where he was convicted of felony possession of methamphetamine, which carries a four-year sentence in that state, possession of paraphernalia and obstruction, according to records in Oklahoma. For that, he was placed on probation.

Riff ended up in Wichita sometime between his 2015 conviction for meth and April, 29, 2016, when he was arrested in Wichita for assaulting a law enforcement officer.

After that, Riff spent nearly two years in and out of jail, prison and a mental hospital in Kansas.

During 16 months of supervision, he absconded four times, including as recently as Sept. 17, Kansas Department of Corrections records show. Less than a month later, on Oct. 12, Riff was released from state supervision.

It’s not clear if Kansas authorities communicated to Oklahoma about Riff’s release. A spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said Riff appears to be in good standing. A revocation of his probation had not been filed by Thursday.

On Saturday, the day before police say Riff kicked the child, he was arrested on suspicion of illegal inhalation, or huffing, near 29th and Rock. It doesn’t appear he was booked into jail for that.

In a financial affidavit filed in the 2016 Kansas court case, Riff told the judge he had been unemployed for two years at that time and provided an address for a house on North Green. In another section of the court documents, which were signed by Riff on May 3, 2016, he said he was homeless.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story that appeared in print and online did not include Riff’s type of bond.

Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.
Tim Potter has covered crime and safety for The Eagle for more than 20 years. His focus is the story behind the story and government accountability. He can be reached at 316-268-6684.
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