DENVER – Amid the protests across the U.S. against excessive police force against people of color, Elijah McClain’s name has become another rallying cry.
McClain, a 23-year-old Black man in the Denver suburb of Aurora, died in August after police officers confronted him as he was walking to a store. Officers put him in a chokehold and injected him with a sedative.
Here’s what we know:
Who is Elijah McClain?McClain was a massage therapist who planned to go to college, his younger sister, Samara McClain, told The Denver Post. McClain’s friends and family said he was as “a spiritual seeker, pacifist, oddball, vegetarian, athlete and peacemaker who was exceedingly gentle,” according to the Colorado Sentinel.
Samara McClain said her brother often wore masks when he was outside because he had a blood condition that caused him to become cold easily. She also said that her brother was walking to a corner store to get tea for a cousin when someone contacted police to report a suspicious person wearing a ski mask on a warm evening and waving his arms as he walked down a street Aug. 24.
How did he die?According to a report by District Attorney Dave Young, Aurora officers responding to the report said McClain was uncooperative when they confronted him. They said they took McClain to the ground when he tried to grab one of their holstered guns. One of the officers then put him in a specialized control hold, pressing against his carotid artery.
Police body camera footage shows McClain telling officers: “Let go of me. I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”
After McClain was kept 15 minutes on the ground, paramedics gave him 500 milligrams of Ketamine to calm him down. McClain subsequently suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and was declared brain dead on Aug. 27. He was taken off life support three days later.
A forensic pathologist working for the Adams County coroner could not determine what exactly led to his death but said physical exertion during the confrontation likely contributed.
What was the result of the investigation?Three officers were placed on paid administrative leave while the incident was investigated by Denver and Aurora police, as well as the District Attorney’s Office.
Young said in a letter to then-Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz that he could not find indisputable evidence that Aurora officers or others used “unjustified” force” and that it was “improbable for the prosecution to prove cause of death beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.”
Aurora hired an attorney, Eric Daigle, to investigate, then terminated the contract when it was learned he had been a police officer in Connecticut.
Aurora’s City Council is debating whether to hire another third-party investigator. Mayor Mike Coffman has set a July 6 deadline for the council to decide.
Initial investigations by Aurora police and a district attorney produced no charges. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, citing appeals from the public, appointed the state’s attorney general to re-examine a possible prosecution against the three officers.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI announced that they have been looking into a possible civil rights investigation since 2019.
Federal authorities also said they were considering an investigation into photos of Aurora police released last week.
What is the controversy surrounding photos taken near McClain’s memorial?Three officers were fired in early July over photos showing police re-enacting a chokehold used on McClain when he was arrested.
Officers Kyle Dittrich, Erica Marrero and Jaron Jones – none of whom confronted McClain in August – smiled and mockingly placed each other in a chokehold in the photos taken in October near a memorial for McClain.
Jason Rosenblatt one of the officers who arrested McClain in August, received the photo and responded by text with “Haha,” and was fired along with Dittrich and Marrero for conduct unbecoming of an officer. Jones resigned last week.
Aurora Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson called the photos “a crime against humanity and decency.”
The Aurora Police Association called the investigation “a rush to judgment.”
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.”