City of Aurora releases independent report on Elijah McClain death

 McClain Family
McClain Family (KSNB)
Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 8:28 AM MST
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AURORA, Colo. (KKTV) - The city of Aurora has released its findings into the 2019 death of an unarmed Black man.

Elijah McClain died Aug. 24, 2019 during an encounter with city police officers on the way back from a convenience store. The officers were responding to a 911 call about a “suspicious person” in the area of the store and stopped McClain. Body camera footage captured the encounter; a partial transcript can be read here. Despite insisting he was doing nothing wrong, he was eventually put into a chokehold by the police officers and given a sedative by paramedics after a confrontation with officers. He stopped breathing on the way to the hospital.

The death prompted outrage across the country and was at the center of several protests in Colorado last summer. Amid the renewed focus on the case, Gov. Jared Polis ordered an investigation into whether or not there was any criminal wrongdoing, and the city of Aurora began looking into the actions of the officers and paramedics and reviewing whether any policies need to be changed.

Aurora City Council commissioned an independent investigative team in July 2020. The results of that investigation were posted to the city website Monday. The full 157-page report can be viewed here.

Investigators were tasked with reviewing the incident and coming up with policy recommendations, not to assess whether misconduct occurred. But the panel still sharply criticized the police department for its weak accountability system and officers’ accounts not matching what the body camera showed.

The panel’s conclusion reads in part:

“The events that led to the death of Elijah McClain unfolded rapidly on the streets of Aurora, Colorado on August 24, 2019. He came to the attention of police because a 911 call reported that he was wearing a ski mask on a summer evening and waving his arms and gesturing. Neither the caller nor any of the officers involved identified a crime that Mr. McClain was suspected of committing at the time that he first came to the officers’ attention. Within seconds of exiting their cars, officers used force on Mr. McClain which they sustained over an extended time period, including two attempted carotid holds. EMS waited almost seven minutes after arriving to interact with Mr. McClain, and their first contact was to administer the sedative ketamine. The post-event investigation was flawed and failed to meaningfully develop a fulsome record. These facts trouble the Panel. However, it was not our charge to assess whether misconduct occurred; rather, our task was simply to report what we could learn from the record and make policy recommendations.

“The panel’s policy recommendations primarily fall into three categories, which urge the city to:

- Review policy, training, and supervision regarding use of force and arrest practices

- Improve accountability systems, including more effective review by Major Crime and mandatory review by Internal Affairs

- Clarify and strengthen the transition of an individual from suspect to patient when EMS is called

In addition, the panel identified a need for the city to review its policies, practices, training, and culture regarding implicit bias, to reform its crisis intervention system, to maintain the independence of EMS, and to consider the impact of options other than ketamine.

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