The death of a 23-year-old black man in police custody in Colorado is under renewed public scrutiny amid nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism, and the governor has promised state measures to review the case.
Elijah McClain was removed from life support on August 30, six days after being confronted by police in the Denver suburb of Aurora, when officers responded to a call reporting a suspicious person in the area.
Officers applied a strangle during the confrontation, authorities said.
“I have news of many Colorado residents who have expressed concern about the investigation into the death of Elijah McClain,” Governor Jared Polis said in a statement Wednesday. As a result, he said he has asked a legal adviser “what the state can do and we are evaluating the next steps.”
Also on Wednesday, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman scheduled a special City Council meeting for July 6 and called on lawmakers to consider an independent investigation.
“We need to close this tragic incident by making sure every aspect of it is thoroughly investigated,” said Coffman.
Mari Newman, an attorney for the McClain family, said the family is grateful for supporters, but still frustrated, no action has been taken against anyone involved in the man’s death.
“I think it is clear that there should be an independent investigation, which is why I started demanding one last fall,” Newman told NBC News on Thursday.
“It is unfortunate that pressure from the international media and the petitions signed by two million people are required before elected officials do their jobs, and by elected officials I mean the prosecutor and the mayor.”
Aurora police received a call at 10:32 pm on August 24 reporting that a “suspicious person” was “walking down Billings Street near East Colfax Avenue, wearing a ski mask and waving his arms at the person who was Call, “authorities said.
McClain often wore a balaclava when he was cold, his family said, and it would have been in the mid-1960s that night, according to weather records.
“The man would not stop walking down the officer’s street,” according to a police statement at the time. “The man resisted contact, a fight ensued and he was detained.”
At some point, officers called an ambulance. Authorities later said McClain “suffered cardiac arrest and life-saving measures were initiated.”
The Adams and Broomfield counties coroner found that McClain’s death was due to “indeterminate causes.” But the coroner did not rule out whether the police choke, in addition to the sedative ketamine injected into McClain by paramedics, could have contributed to his death.
“A carotid control suspension was applied during restraint of the deceased,” according to the report of Dr. Stephen Cina, a forensic pathology consultant. “Records indicate that the deceased was still fighting with officers after this withholding was withdrawn. He then coded after receiving a dose of ketamine.”
Cina added: “I cannot determine if a carotid control hold contributed to death through carotid sinus stimulation; there were no signs of traumatic suffocation.”
Adams County Prosecutor Dave Young chose not to prosecute the officers involved, saying he could not rebut, with enough evidence to win a conviction, the officers’ claim that they were right to use the level of force they employed. .
A Change.org petition calling for the officers involved to be removed and an independent investigation into the case had obtained more than 2.9 million signatures on Thursday afternoon.
“Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever,” said Polis. “A fair and objective process free of real or perceived bias to investigate murders involving officers is critical.”
A union representative of the three officers involved in the case could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Mohammed Syed and Kathryn Prociv contributed