Last August, 23-year-old Elijah McClain was stopped by police in Aurora, Colorado as he was returning from a convenience store. The Aurora Police Department later claimed that a 911 caller identified “suspects” to the ski mask, when he was approached with a McClain — who was not army and had committed no crime — he “resisted arrest.” In the intervening 15 minutes, the police tackled McClain on the ground, held him in a carotid array and called first respondents who injected him with ketamine. On his way to the hospital, he suffered a heart attack, and died days later, after his brain suffered been pronounced dead.
McClain ‘s family argues that the use of unnecessary force by the law enforcement officers resulted in his death. Nevertheless, the officers were eventually released from their crimes on the basis of questionable body-camera video and a supposedly unreliable autopsy. The case of McClain has drawn more attention through nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice and the brutal methods frequently used by the police against Black citizens.
That is what we know about Elijah McClain.
McClain was stopped on his way home from getting his brother’s iced tea.
Just after 10:30 p.m. Aurora Police received a call on 24 August 2019 about a ‘suspect’ wearing a mask and shaking his hands. Three officers were dispatched — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema — who later said McClain “resisted” contact and proceeded on the block.
McClain ‘s family said that the 23-year-old had made a short visit to the grocery store to take his brother an iced tea. His sister later claimed to an ABC news affiliate, Denver7, that McClain wore an open face ski mask, “he had anemia and sometimes he was cold.” And while he was unarmed, he only walked back home, and, his sister said, listening to the radio, the police said, “A fight erupted.” “Because of the physical force used in the restraint of the subject and its emotional agitation, officers called Aurora First Responder who, according to a local NBC affiliate, implemented life-saving measures. Paramedics shot McClain with the “therapeutic” amount to sedate him as police held him down.
During the way to the hospital, McClain suffered a cardiac arrest and was taken away from life during 30 August. His family said he was brain dead and riddled in bruises at the time.
Arrest body camera video hasn’t been released for months.
The ADP did not report the indictment until the end of November, months after the death of McClain, to the press. The video shows an officer admitting that McClain had not done anything wrong before his arrest; another accuses McClain of hitting his weapons. In the meantime, McClain can be heard telling the police officers to pause, to justify why they decided to arrest him, because he “stopped [his] listening music.” He tells them his name, says he has no identification card, but no arms, and says that his house ‘is right there.’ He sobs, vomits, and excuses: ‘I haven’t tried to do that,’ he says. “I just can’t breathe properly.” One of those officers could also be heard asking McClain if he was “messing” around, pretending to display excessive strength as officers attempted to hold his arms down.
However, none of the protocol of the officers can be seen, as all their body cams apparently fell during their arrest. But if you replay the video about 15 minutes later (warning: the video includes strong and unsettling contents), you will see someone taking the body camera and pointing it to McClain and one of the officers before tossing it back into the grass. One of the officers appears to say at about 15:34, “Leave your phone.”
Initially, an autopsy identified McClain’s cause of death as “undetermined.”
The autopsy of McClain also posed concerns. At the beginning of November, the Adams County Coroner reported that it wasn’t clear if his death was an accident, carotid-related suicide, or a result of natural causes. McClain’s cause of death was identified by the coroner as ‘undetermined,’ but he pointed to bleeding and abrasions in various parts of his body. The report’s wording appeared to take McClain ‘s obligations and suggest that “an idiosyncratic drug reaction (an unpredictable drug reaction even at a therapeutic level) can not be ruled out” in relation to ketamine dose.
“The decedent clashed violently with police who attempted to arrest him,” it was said according to Denver 7 ABC. “The physical activity of the decedent most certainly led to death. It is uncertain if the conduct of the officer has also led.
As McClain ‘s lawyer Mari Newman said, “If the police had not targeted Elijah McClain, it would be alive today, whatever the news reports.”
And all the officers involved were cleared of misconduct.
The APD put Woodyard, Rosenblatt and Roedema immediately following the incident on a paid administrative leave. On 22 November the prosecutors of Adams County announced that they would not indict the trio who then returned to their regular duties. According to Sentinel, District Attorney Dave Young told Aurora Chief Police Officer Nick Metz in a letter that “Based on the investigation and the existing statute in Colorado, the possibility of any state crimes being proven beyond the scope of reasonable doubt in the proceedings is not fair. As a result of this incident no state criminal charges will be filed.
Metz subsequently called McClain ‘s actions “unprofessional,” and said the statement “was addressed to the officer through written redress.” Newman told Sentinel, meanwhile: “If Aurora feels that it’s acceptable, the city will be petrified. They are fooled but not shocked that, again, the law enforcement officers aren’t convicted criminally of murdering an innocent Black man.
On July 3, only one officer was dismissed but did not engage in the death of McClain personally (see below); the APD reassigned Woodyard and Rosenblatt quietly to “non-executions assignments” on June 13, followed by Roedema on June 20. The APD did not respond to the comment request of the Cut, but a spokesman told Fox 31 Denver that the concern for the safety of the officers was the reason for the decision. Department workers and city leaders recently received death threats, a spokesman told CNN.
In recent weeks, McClain ‘s case has drawn scrutiny.
Notwithstanding local media reporting and some modest demonstrations, McClain ‘s death was not widely covered in the press until the killing of George Floyd triggered mass protests against racially motivated police brutality. Since then, a petition from Change.org asking for “Justice for Elijah McClain” has gained almost 2 million signatures. A increase in popularity since McClain ‘s name is posted in the social media and has converted thousands of emails and calls to D.A at protests. Young ‘s office, and hundreds of police reports lodged. All seems to produce a immediate improvement.
While Young said he did not plan to reopen the case last week, on 9 June, City Manager Jim Twombly agreed to conduct an independent investigation into McClain ‘s death on Aurora ‘s request. The council members Allison Hiltz, Curtis Gardner, and Angela Lawson said in an email to Twombly, “We’ve been following the events over the last few days and it is now clear that public confidence has been undermined.” “We know that the status quo of our criminal justice system is no longer reasonable. Our society has suffered and it is our duty as leaders to take the first step towards restoring public confidence.
Initially, Twombly appointed Eric Daigle, a former police officer, to lead the study, a decision which prompted the city council to fight back.
The council said in a statement, “Unfortunately, an attorney with a extensive law enforcement background, specializing in defending local police forces from liability lawsuits does not, in our opinion, qualify as a neutral study.” Mayor Mike Coffman of Aurora then announced the termination of Daigle ‘s contract and the appointment of a replacement by himself and the Council.
Aurora Interim Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson announced on June 9 that officers will be prohibited to use carothy grips and allowed to interfere when another officer sees the use of excessive force. They must also state their intention to shoot before they fire their weapons. In fact , two members of the Council of Aurora are moving to prohibit chokeholds, and carotids are part of the city ‘s control.
And now, the General Prosecutor investigates the case.
On June 25, Colorado governor Jared Polis signed an executive order naming State Attorney General Phil Weiser to review the case and “penally prosecute individuals whose conduct resulted in the death of Elijah McClain, if the evidence warrant the proceedings.”
“I was moved to talk to the mother of Elijah and her portrayal of her son as a caring and peculiar boy … who could inspire the darkest soul,” said Polis in a statement. “They should be alive today, Elijah McClain, and we owe it to his family to take this action and bring justice on his behalf to the police.”
“For the McClain family, my heart breaks as a parent,” Polis said. “All Coloradans should walk away from the grocery store, or only listen to the headphones in their own neighbourhoods. Sadly, I know that’s not how many people today – particularly vibrant young people – feel about our state, because I have heard it directly from them. We have to do a better job and they deserve an in-depth review of the case at least.
On 24 June, Coffman announced that the City Council would meet on 6 July, after Daigle had been dropped, for a vote naming a new independent enquirer.
Less than a month later, 11 August, A.G. Weiser also announced that his agency is carrying out a “few weeks now” investigation into the Police Department of Aurora and its “patterns and procedures” beyond McClain ‘s death.
One of the officers involved was shot — with an unsuitable photo.
On July 3, Chief Interim Police Officer Wilson confirmed that she had shot photographs taken for a McClain memorial last October from Rosenblatt and two other officers. Jaron Jones, another soldier, resigned on Tuesday.
In the photos Jones shows a teasing imitation of McClain ‘s grip with his arm wrapped around the neck of Officer Kyle Dittrich. Both officers smile while Erica Marrero sits on her back. Rosenblatt did not take part in the shot, although, according to the New York Times, he did text back “haha” when somebody sent it to him. On 3 July, Wilson said Rosenblatt “was shot for his… complete inability here to do what was right.” Wilson noted that Woodyard had viewed the photos, felt ‘extraordinarily upset’ and deleted them.
As for Marrero and Dittrich, Wilson added: “It’s not acceptable, to even talk about doing such a thing, and it’s reprehensible. It shows a lack of moral standards and dignity.
“We know there are ethics of police. You recognize the responsibility and honor. Just four don’t, “said Wilson. “We no longer deserve to wear badges.”
Speaking at the news conference, Newman, a McClain family lawyer, drew a comparison with “The South Jim Crow, where white supremacists found it funny to take photos of themselves with lynched men.”
“That’s exactly what we saw today,” said Newman. “So, it is not acceptable, now it is not acceptable.”
During McClain ‘s arrest, the Colorado Department of Health investigates the use of ketamine.
CBS Denver announced on Tuesday 28 July that the Colorada Department of Public Health and the Environment reopened an investigation into the way a paramedic injected McClain in his violent arrest and his eventual death with 500 milligrams of ketamine. The Department has also published additional information about how the medication was administered.
“The Department received several concerns, starting 24 June 2020 and providing additional details on administration of ketamine in August 2019,” Peter Myers, CDPHE’s Speaker for Health Facility Education and Safety Directorate, told Complex.
And his father has sued Aurora, Colorado for civil rights.
According to CNN, McClains family filed a complaint against Aurora on 11 August alleging that “the city’s illegal conduct on the night of 24 August 2019 is part of a broader tradition, policy and practice of racism and violence expressed both in its actions before and after the murder of a young Blackman Elijah McClain.”
The complaint names defendant members of the police department including the officers involved in the accidental death of McClain, and Aurora Fire Rescue. It suggests that McClain, who had not been accused of crimes as violently as police had, should not be detained and that he should not be injected with a “huge dose of ketamine.” This implies that McClain ‘s arrest is a result of racial discrimination, which is reflected in the inability by the town to “discipline” the parties responsible for his death. In addition, the prosecutions point to a recent, violent police response to peaceful protesters.
The lawyer representing the victims, Mari Newman, said she was planning to bring the case ‘to keep Aurora cops, police and paramedics accountable representing [McClain’s] assassination and compel Aurora to alter its long-standing violent and discriminatory culture of policing.’
The family and friends of McClain described him as very gentle and polite.
McClain worked as a music therapist, teaching himself both the guitar and the violin. According to the Sentinel, he also spent his lunch breaks at local animal shelters, playing cats and dogs shows, because he felt that music would help to ease their worries. He was characterized by those who knew him as being gentle: “I don’t even think he would trap the mouse, if a rodent problem existed,” his friend Eric Behrens told the Sentinel.
He also had interactions with his massage customers, including April Young, who told Sentinel, “He had a childlike nature …. He’s never put in, like. He was who he was. “He was who he was.”
“He was the sweetest and purest guy I’ve ever known,” said Marna Arnett, another of his friends and former customers. “He was always a light in a lot of darkness.” Arnett claims that wearing a mask helped him control his social anxiety in addition to helping him handle a constant depression that McClain attributed to his anaemia. “He ‘d hide behind the mask,” said Arnett. “Protection was always for him. This made him in the outside world more relaxed.
His mother, Sheneen McClain, described her son as extremely dedicated while speaking to CBSN Denver. “I thank God that he was my son because he was just born, you know what I said when he brought life into my heart. “She said. She said. “I know that he always gave life to others.”