Andy Cross, The Denver Post LaWayne Mosley, father of Elijah McClain, wears a t-shirt with is son’s picture on it during a press conference in front of the Aurora Municipal Center Oct. 1, 2019.
Adams County District Attorney Dave Young found no criminal actions by Aurora police during his investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old man who died at a hospital after a violent struggle with officers.
Police at a news conference Friday night showed officers’ body camera footage from the Aug. 24 incident, footage posted on the department’s YouTube page.
The video is violent and disturbing and “viewer discretion is advised,” police said at the news conference.
The body camera footage on YouTube includes views from the first three responding officers — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema. All of their cameras were knocked off of their uniforms during the struggle. Video from officers who responded later is also part of the package.
Officers attempted to stop McClain, who was walking in the 1900 block of Billings Street near East Colfax Avenue, after someone called 911 to report a “sketchy” man flailing his arms and wearing a ski mask.
McClain, who routinely wore masks when outside because he had anemia and became cold easily, according to family, refused to stop for officers when they first contacted him. “I have a right to go where I am going,” he said.
An officer got close to McClain and touched him. “Stop tensing up, dude. Stop tensing up,” the officer said. McClain said: “I am going home. … Leave me alone,” and “Let me go. No, let me go. I am an introvert. Please respect my boundaries that I am speaking.”
A struggle escalated, and three officers wrangled McClain toward a lawn, eventually taking him down. During the struggle, Roedema claimed that McClain tried to grab for Rosenblatt’s holstered gun.
One camera goes dark, but audio can still be heard. McClain cried, pleaded and whimpered. “Ouch, that really hurts,” he said. “I’m so sorry. I don’t have a gun. I don’t do that stuff.”
As McClain, who weighed 140 pounds, was held on the ground, Woodyard applied a “carotid control hold” around McClain’s neck. McClain was handcuffed with his hands behind his back. He vomited several times.
At one point, an officer spotted another officer’s body camera pointed at him: “Move your camera, dude,” the officer said.
Young, in a letter dated Friday to Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz, said: “From the officers’ perception, it went from an investigatory stop to a potential life-threatening incident, and it certainly raised the officers’ use of force.
“Under the circumstances of this investigation, it is improbable for the prosecution to prove cause of death beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. … Consequently, the evidence does not support the prosecution of a homicide.”
Late Friday night, Mari Newman, an attorney representing McClain and his family, blasted the police department, describing its announcement as a “surprise closed-door press conference about its killing of Elijah McClain.”
Newman, in a written statement, said McClain’s family wasn’t notified of the DA’s decision letter despite a promise of “transparency” by police. “Tonight’s surprise Friday night press conference is yet another example of Aurora doing its best to keep Elijah’s family and the community in the dark.”
At the news conference, Metz said he made the decision to hold the conference because of the decision letter.
Elijah McClain was declared “brain dead” on Aug. 27 at a local hospital. “Intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery contributed to death,” according to an autopsy report released earlier. The night of the incident, after McClain was handcuffed, authorities injected him with ketamine to sedate him. He suffered cardiac arrest during the ambulance ride to a hospital.
As part of the Friday night news conference, Aurora Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Stephen McInerny said ketamine was used in accordance with “regional protocol … based on what was presented” at the time of the incident.
The three officers claimed that McClain was super strong and they assumed that he was on drugs or a stimulant. “Whatever he is on, he has crazy strength,” one officer said.
The autopsy found only ketamine and marijuana in his system.
McInerny said fire rescue personnel decided on the ketamine injection because McClain had exhibited signs of “excited delirium.” The autopsy found the ketamine injection, 500 milligrams, to be a “therapeutic level.”
All three officers, who had been place on administrative leave during the investigation, have returned to work, Metz said.
Newman, however, said it’s “abundantly clear” that the officers “used unconstitutional excessive force.”
The officers “shed their body cameras, freeing themselves to create a false narrative that this pacifist vegetarian (McClain) reached for a gun,” Newman said.
At the news conference, Metz said officers lose lots of equipment — badges, handcuffs and cameras — during physical struggles. He said the department is looking at the issue and that improved camera mounts could be a solution.
At one point during the incident, an Aurora canine officer threatened he would have his police dog bite McClain, who was handcuffed, ill and pinned to the ground by an officer.
“Those comments were inappropriate and unprofessional,” Metz said, describing the canine staffer, who has been reprimanded, as a “good officer who made a mistake.”
As for the three officers who were most directly involved Metz said: “I think overall the officers did a good job trying to calm Elijah down.”
McClain’s family sees it differently, Newman said. Supporters of McClain will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. Saturday on the west side of the Aurora Municipal Center, 15151 E. Alameda Parkway.
“If Aurora thinks this is appropriate policing, the community should be petrified,” Newman said. “We are disappointed, but not surprised, that once again, members of law enforcement will not be held criminally accountable for killing an unarmed black man.”