The Colorado governor appointed the state attorney general as special prosecutor to investigate the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed black man who died after an officer strangled him and doctors injected him with the sedative ketamine. in August 2019.
Thursday’s announcement comes amid mounting pressure on U.S. authorities to re-examine McClain’s death, and authorities are reportedly receiving thousands of phone calls and emails. Meanwhile, more than 2.7 million people have signed an online petition asking for a new review, while #elijahmcclainwasmurdered has been trending on social media.
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Police involved in the death of Aurora, Colorado, had previously been cleared of irregularities by the Aurora Police Department, while the district attorney’s office said an investigation found no criminality on behalf of the officers. However, attention has returned to the case in the US Amid a national movement against institutional racism sparked by the police murder of George Floyd in Minnesota in May.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis said he decided to sign an executive order appoint state attorney general Phil Weiser to investigate McClain’s death after he “was moved by talking to Elijah’s mother and her description of her son as a responsible and curious child who became a vegetarian to be healthier and who could inspire the darker soul.”
“Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and raise the quest for justice on his behalf to state concern,” he said in a statement.
How did McClain die?
Police called Elijah McClain, 23, as he was walking home to his Aurora, Colorado, home from a local store on August 24, 2019. The family later said he had gone to buy his brother an iced tea.
The caller reported that McClain was acting suspiciously, wearing a ski mask and waving his arms in the air. The family later said that McClain often wore a face mask because he was anemic and easily cooled.
Three officers arrived on the scene and told McClain to stop, and when he failed to comply, officers boarded him. Later, one of the officers said McClain had attempted to grab another officer’s gun during the fight, according to body camera images.
Today, I signed an Executive Order designating Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate and, if the facts support the prosecution, criminally prosecute anyone whose actions caused the death of Elijah McClain.
Executive order: https://t.co/efmVp0mhGS
Statement below: pic.twitter.com/M5q14GoHPE
– Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) June 25, 2020
During the fight, an officer put McClain into a choke, causing him to vomit and pass out briefly, according to local reports. Officers then called the emergency medical services, who administered ketamine to sedate McClain.
McClain suffered a heart attack in the ambulance and died a week later after his family removed him from life support.
The Adams County Coroner’s Office performed an autopsy, saying the form and cause of death remain undetermined. The autopsy noted that intense physical exertion and a narrow coronary artery contributed to McClain’s death.
What was said during the incident?
Body camera images released by authorities captured audio of the encounter. Police said their cameras were turned off during the fight.
The images show police approaching McClain and telling him to stop. McClain does not comply immediately and tells the officer “to release me.”
Meanwhile, the officer tells McClain to stop tensing.
“I’m an introvert, respect the limits I’m talking about,” says McClain. “I’m going home, leave me alone.”
Then an officer is heard telling him to “relax or I’m going to have to change this situation.”
McClain tells the officers, “You guys started arresting me and I was stopping my music to listen. Let me go.”
As an apparent fight ensues, McClain can be heard gasping for air and crying.
An officer is heard saying “stop fighting or they will harass you.”
“I can’t breathe, please stop,” says McClain. “My name is Elijah McClain. That is all I was doing, I was going home … I am an introvert, I am different.”
Later McClain is heard saying, “I’m so sorry, I don’t have a gun, I don’t do those things, I don’t fight … I don’t do violence, I don’t even kill flies, I don’t eat meat, I’m a vegetarian, I don’t judge people.”
As more officers respond, one is later heard threatening to drop a dog on McClain if he continues to “play.”
Why were the police cleared of irregularities?
In November last year, Adams County District Attorney Dave Young said an investigation into the incident found no criminal action by police.
On Thursday, Young reiterated in a statement that the evidence did not amount to criminality, citing the inconclusive autopsy. He also said that it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the force used was unwarranted.
Meanwhile, after an internal review by the Aurora Police Department, investigators announced in February that officers had acted “within policy and in accordance with training.”
As @ AuroraGov’s public safety policy committee, we sent the following letter to the City Manager asking for his recommendations for people to complete the independent investigation into #ElijahMcClain’s death at our July 16 meeting. @ AllisonHiltz @LawsonForAurora pic.twitter.com/10ri9YoLn3
– Curtis Gardner (@CurtisForAurora) June 24, 2020
The City of Aurora had previously proposed an independent review of the case, but that plan stalled when it was revealed that the person chosen to lead the investigation was a former police officer.
Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman announced Wednesday that he has advanced a vote to elect a new independent investigator to lead a city investigation into police and medical actions in the McClain case.
Who Was Elijah McClain?
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Friends told local media that McClain had been working as a massage therapist in the area for four years, describing him as a gentle, idiosyncratic person who brought positive energy and was interested in natural healing.
“He had a childish spirit,” a friend April Young, a massage store manager, told the Sentinal. “Elijah McClain was not conditioned by the rules of the United States … He lived in his own little world. He had never liked adapting, he just was who he was.”
Colleagues told the news site that McClain used to spend his lunch breaks playing the guitar or violin, sometimes taking the instruments to local animal shelters to play for cats and dogs.
That love of music has led friends to suggest that McClain was probably dancing when the police called him.