Aurora City Council approves independent investigation into Elijah McClain’s death

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(CBS News)–The city council of Aurora, Colorado, voted unanimously on Monday night to call for an independent investigation into the death of Elijah McClainCBS Denver reports. The 23-year-old Black man died last August after he was stopped on the street by police, put in a chokehold and later sedated with ketamine.

Jonathan Smith, the executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, will lead the investigation. Smith spent five years with the Department of Justice investigating civil rights violations by law enforcement, and also helped lead the civil investigation into the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, according to CBS Denver.

A three-member team, with at least three additional consultants, will help conduct the investigation. The team won’t bring criminal charges — but it will examine and provide recommendations on first responder policies including calls for service, police contact, calls for medical assistance, ketamine use and administrative incident reviews, CBS Denver reports.

In August 2019, McClain was stopped on the street by three police officers. When officers tried to restrain him, McClain resisted and said “Let me go, no let me go, I am an introvert, please respect my boundaries that I am speaking,” according to District Attorney Dave Young’s November 2019 report. 

During the interaction, an officer said he saw McClain reaching for one of their guns — prompting another officer to put him in a chokehold. He fell unconscious, but was given ketamine when he woke up because he allegedly became aggressive, according to Young’s report. He went into cardiac arrest while being transported to the hospital and died days later. 

Young said he did not have enough evidence to charge the officers, who were reassigned in late June as calls grew for the case to be reexamined. 

None of the officers were fired because of their actions the night of the encounter with McClain. One officer involved in McClain’s death, Jason Rosenblatt, was fired in early July for responding “ha ha” to a text message of a photo of other officers reenacting a chokehold near McClain’s memorial. Two other officers who were not involved in McClain’s death were fired in connection with the chokehold photo, and a third resigned. 

The city council’s vote comes more than a month after the city ended a contract with another attorney who was leading an investigation into McClain’s death. City council members had questioned the neutrality of Eric Daigle, a former police officer who was chosen by the city manager, according to CBS Denver

In June, when the contract was terminated, the city’s mayor said he would work with the city council to select a replacement. 

Smith’s team isn’t the only group investigating the case. Governor Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor to investigate McClain’s death in late June, and the Department of Justice announced days later that it would also look into McClain’s case. 

First published on July 21, 2020 / 4:59 PM

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