Released on Monday, the results of an investigation into the fatal arrest of Elijah McClain in suburban Denver criticise how police handled the entire incident, faulting officers for their quick, aggressive treatment of the 23-year-old Black man and the department for having a weak system of accountability that failed to press for the truth about what happened.
The investigation commissioned by the city of Aurora found “two contrasting stories” after someone reported him as suspicious of what happened to McClain in August 2019. One, based on the statements of officers to investigators, in which the police describe a violent, relentless fight. And another one based on body camera footage in which McClain can be heard crying out in pain, apologising, explaining himself, and pleading with the officers as they restrained him, applying techniques of “pain compliance,” and sitting or kneeling on him.
Forgive me… forgive me “All of you are wonderful, all of you are beautiful,” McClain said at one point, the report said.
Police also put McClain in a neckhold that stops the blood flow to the brain, temporarily rendering him unconscious, and he was injected with 500 milligrammes of ketamine as a sedative by paramedics. He suffered cardiac arrest and was taken away from life support later on.
The report also indicates that the review of the case by District Attorney Dave Young failed to evaluate the behaviour of the officer and did not “reflect the rigour” of a police investigation “that one would expect” when evaluating whether a crime was committed.
Young’s review of the case did not find sufficient evidence in McClain’s death to press criminal charges.
In order to stop someone, the district attorney did not consider Colorado’s statutory requirement that officers must have “reasonable suspicion” of a previous or imminent crime, relying only on the fact that McClain was in a “high crime area” and that on a summer night he was wearing a ski mask and a coat, the report found.
The report states, “Neither the neighbourhood nor the ski mask alone or together are sufficient to create reasonable suspicion without more,”
His family said that because he had a blood condition that caused him to cold easily, McClain wore the mask.
In the national reckoning of police brutality and racial injustice, his death attracted renewed attention last year and prompted several investigations, including a probe of possible criminal charges by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which remains in progress.
The city asked outside investigators in the Aurora investigation to look into the actions of police, firefighters and paramedics in the arrest of McClain, but not to duplicate the criminal investigation of the attorney general. They were also asked to review policies and procedures, such as the use of force and the use of ketamine, related to McClain’s arrest. As it awaited the results of the investigation, the city banned the use of ketamine.
Before paramedics administered ketamine, the inquiry found there was no effort to test McClain. The policy suggested by the report should be changed so that paramedics give priority to patient safety rather than acting as the police department’s “arm.”
It also suggested that the police department review how officers are trained to decide whether they have a legal reason for stopping, frisking and arresting individuals, and urges the city to consider revising how incidents are reviewed. It claimed that department investigators who interviewed the three officers who stopped and detained McClain “failed to ask any prosecutor’s fundamental, critical questions” required to decide if their use of force was legally justified.
“Instead, the questions often appeared intended to evoke specific exonerating “magic language” found in court decisions,” it said.
In a complaint against Aurora, lawyers for McClain’s parents said the investigation’s findings validated their arguments that he should never have been stopped, subjected to force and injected with ketamine.
“That’s the truth, it’s consistent,” said lawyer Mari Newman, who represents the father of McClain, LaWayne Mosley.
She was grateful for the study “laid bare” the misconduct of city workers by lawyers for mother Sheneen McClain.
“On the day of his death, Elijah committed no crime, but those who are responsible for the death of Elijah certainly did,” they said in a statement.
Around half a dozen people who signed up to speak at the subsequent online council meeting on Monday evening, following a presentation of the investigation’s results to city councillors, requested justice for McClain. Most called for the three officers who stopped McClain to be shot or charged, along with the firefighter who allowed the use of ketamine and the paramedic who administered it.
As part of his investigation, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser revealed in January that, as part of his investigation, he opened a grand jury investigation into McClain’s death, claiming it offered a “investigative tool” to compel testimony and mandate record creation. Weiser’s office is now conducting an Aurora police civil rights investigation, the first under a police reform law passed after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis set off protests.
The U.S. last year. The Department of Justice and the FBI have both confirmed that they have been investigating McClain’s case since 2019 for a future federal civil rights investigation.
An autopsy did not decide how McClain died, which was a key reason he refused to charge any of the three police officers who arrested McClain, the local prosecutor said. The case brought by the family of McClain alleges that he died as a result of a drastic rise in lactic acid in his blood caused by excessive police force over about 18 minutes, combined with the suppression of his respiratory system by ketamine. They argue that even after he was handcuffed, police continued to “torture” McClain, treatment they believe is a product of the history of “unconstitutional racist brutality” in the department.