Crime & Courts

Now that man is charged with kicking Wichita toddler, mother feels justice

Man in baby-kicking case makes appearance in Sedgwick County Court

(FILE VIDEO - Jan. 7, 2019) Trace Riff, the suspect accused of kicking a 1-year-old African-American toddler to the floor of a Wichita store and hurling racial slurs, was charged Monday with felony attempted aggravated battery and other crimes.
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(FILE VIDEO - Jan. 7, 2019) Trace Riff, the suspect accused of kicking a 1-year-old African-American toddler to the floor of a Wichita store and hurling racial slurs, was charged Monday with felony attempted aggravated battery and other crimes.

And now there is some justice for 1-year-old Jhavii Fry and his family, his mother says.

“I’m happy,” she told an Eagle reporter, “because I thought they were going to blow it off.”

The Wichita toddler’s mother, Lashantai Whitaker, was reacting to the news that the District Attorney’s Office on Monday charged Trace Riff with felony attempted aggravated battery for allegedly kicking her 1-year-old son on Dec. 23. Initially, Riff, 31, had been facing less-serious misdemeanor charges in Municipal Court and had been released from jail hours after the alleged attack.

Police and witnesses said that Riff kicked the child from behind, hard enough to knock the toddler to the floor as the boy walked into a Dillons grocery store near Douglas and Hillside. The child had been holding his 11-year-old sister’s hand as they walked behind their eight-months-pregnant mother to go shopping. Riff also allegedly went on a racist rant at the store, shouting the “N-word” and repeating that he was a white supremacist. Whitaker and her children are African-American. Riff is white.

The “attempted” part of the attempted aggravated battery charge apparently stems from the fact that the child wasn’t physically injured. Aggravated battery requires “great bodily harm.”

The charging complaint notes that if Riff is convicted, his sentence could be increased if prosecutors show that the crime was motivated at least in part by race or ethnicity or that the child was “particularly vulnerable due to age.”

The local chapter of the NAACP has contended that the case should be treated as a hate crime and prosecuted fully. The NAACP has said the family has been psychologically harmed; Whitaker says her 11-year-daughter is now afraid to walk to school. On Monday, the local NAACP president, Larry Burks, said he would wait to comment on the new charges until after a meeting with District Attorney Marc Bennett.

The attempted aggravated battery charge is just one of the seven charges that Riff is now facing. There are a total of three felonies and four misdemeanors in two separate cases.

In the Dec. 23 store incident, he also is charged with felony interference with law enforcement for allegedly struggling with a Wichita police officer and resisting arrest. Related to the store arrest, he also faces two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct.

In a separate set of charges, Riff is charged with felony possession of methamphetamine and with misdemeanor criminal trespass on Jan. 3. Police and said they arrested Riff after they found him with meth in a vacant apartment on North Market. The door had been forced in.

A separate misdemeanor charge accuses him of “unlawful abuse of toxic vapors” to cause “euphoria … or dulled senses” on Dec. 22, the day before the store incident.

Since his Jan. 3 arrest in the meth case, Riff had remained in jail on a $50,000 bond.

With the new charges, his bond has been increased to $100,000.

At his first court appearance on the new charges Monday, where he appeared over a video monitor at the jail, Riff mumbled on incoherently at times but clearly said “Yes” when Judge Eric Williams asked if he understood the charges.

Riff wrote on his financial affidavit that he had once been self-employed as a plumber but has been unemployed for years.

As he stood before the judge, in a lemon-yellow jail shirt and pants, his long hair draped down over his face, partly obscuring it.

His relatives in Oklahoma have said that he is a former high-fashion model who enjoyed a glamorous life in New York City and abroad when he was around 18 — until his life spiraled out of control from substance abuse and physical and mental health problems. They say he has been homeless.

His criminal record includes drug and violent crimes.

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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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