Sheneen McClain, center, mother of Elijah McClain, speaks during a press conference in front of the Aurora Municipal Center Oct. 01, 2019.
An excessive force review board with the Aurora Police Department found actions taken by its officers relating to the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain were “within policy and consistent with training.”
McClain was arrested Aug. 24 in the 1900 block of Billings Street by officers who were responding to a call about a “suspicious person” wearing a ski mask and waving his arms, police said.
He routinely wore masks when outside because of anemia — a blood condition — which made him become cold easily, according to his family. Before the incident, McClain had no arrest record.
Violence unfolded after McClain refused officers’ commands to stop. He was tackled and pinned to the ground. Officers used a “carotid control hold” on McClain, who weighed 140 pounds. McClain whimpered and cried, asking the officers to stop. He complained that he couldn’t breath, and he vomited multiple times.
“Aurora officers confronted this innocent, unarmed man by immediately going hands-on, grabbing Elijah, throwing him down, applying a carotid choke hold — twice — and continuing to inflict multiple other types of force even after Elijah’s hands were cuffed behind his back,” said attorney Mari Newman, in a written statement, on behalf McClain’s family.
Newman said McClain “had done absolutely nothing wrong. He was just trying to walk home.”
The night of the incident, an officer threatened McClain, who was bound and incapacitated at the time, with siccing a dog on him. “Outrageously, Aurora has concluded that this force was ‘within policy and consistent with training,’ ” Newman said. “The community should be horrified. We are disappointed, but not surprised, that once again Aurora has condoned its officers’ killing of an unarmed black man.”
McClain, during the incident, was injected with 500 milligrams of Ketamine, an anesthetic that induces a trance-like state and is used as a pain reliever and a sedative. McClain was taken to a hospital, and he suffered cardiac arrest in the ambulance during transport. He was taken off of life support on Aug. 30. “Intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery contributed to death,” according to an autopsy report.
In November, Adams County District Attorney Dave Young found no criminal actions by Aurora police during his investigation into the incident. An officer involved said McClain attempted to grab his gun during the struggle.
On Thursday police announced the excessive force review board, which is made up of officers, found that police had a “lawful reason to contact” McClain and that the “force applied during the altercation to include the carotid control hold … was within policy and consistent with training.”
Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, a former division chief and first woman to lead the department, released a short statement as part of the review board announcement. “The loss of Mr. McClain’s life is tragic, and we continue to offer our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all those impacted by this loss.“
Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said on Thursday that he’s “initiating a Critical Incident Review of how the Aurora Police and Fire Departments responded in the Elijah McClain matter.”
Twombly, in a written release, said the city needs to take a “critical look at all aspects of the incident and make changes that better serve our community.”
An external and nationally recognized expert will be part of the review process, which will also look at “current departmental policies, procedures and training relevant to the case.” Several community members will be part of the panel. A final report, including proposals and recommendations, will be available to the public.
The city also plans an immediate audit of police-worn body cameras. “This audit will take a critical look at our policies, how well APD complies with policies, laws and best practices related to the use of body worn cameras, as well as the equipment itself,” Twombly said. The camera audit will be made public when finished, sometime midyear.
Discussions with district attorneys from the 17th and 18th Judicial Districts about timely release of body-worn camera video in officer-involved shootings and critical incident cases is planned.
Twombly said: “Our goal would be to release video more expeditiously without jeopardizing the judicial process.”