Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man, died last summer after being detained by police and injected with ketamine by first responders in Aurora, Colorado. Almost a year later, a Change.org petition seeking justice for McClain obtained more than two million signatures in just three weeks.
Piper Rundell told CBS News that she decided to create the petition after McClain’s coworker told her about her death “almost in tears.”
“Hearing that there were cases of police brutality happening so close to where I lived inspired me to start the petition, I just hoped I could do something,” Rundell said. “When the petition got 100 signatures, I was very excited … I’m sure you can imagine my enthusiasm when there were 100,000 signatures and now more than 2 million have been earned.”
The petition calls for the officers involved in McClain’s death to be removed from service, and for a “deeper investigation” into the events leading up to it.
McClain was walking in Aurora the night of August 24, 2019, when a 911 call was made describing a man who matched his description acting strange, according to District Attorney Dave Young.
“The Aurora Police Department Communications Center (Office) received a call to JV 911 describing a suspicious black man wearing a ski mask, ‘acting strange’ ‘waving his arms,'” the statement read. in the summary of the incident written by Young.
Officer Nathan Woodyard approached McClain and asked him to stop walking. According to Young’s account, McClain “seemed to ignore” the officer’s orders to stop and “continued walking.”
“When Officer Woodyard approached Mr. McClain on foot, again telling him to stop. Mr. McClain said, ‘I have the right to go where I am going.’ Officer Woodyard replied,” I have the right to stop you because you suspect. ” says the report.
The incident escalated after Woodyard grabbed McClain’s arm while Officer Jason Rosenblatt grabbed the other arm. Woodyard later told a detective that he thought McClain might have weapons against him, but would not allow him to be searched. No weapon was ever found.
According to the district attorney’s report: “You can hear an officer on camera with his body as he says’ stop tensing buddy, stop tensing. ‘Mr McClain then said’ let me go, don’t let me go, I’m an introvert, please respect my limits that I’m talking about. ‘”
The situation escalated further after Woodyard and two other officers moved McClain to a nearby lawn. According to Young’s report, McClain can be heard saying “I intend to regain my power,” since Officer Randy Roedema said McClain was reaching for one of the officer’s weapons. The three officers carried McClain to the ground, according to the report.
Woodyard then placed McClain in a “carotid control hold,” a maneuver commonly known as a strangulation where an officer places his arm around a subject’s neck, restricting blood flow to the brain. The city ordered police to stop using the warehouse earlier this month.
McClain lost consciousness and was released from the hold, according to Young’s report. Officers then called for help, and firefighters and an ambulance responded to the scene. A fire doctor requested ketamine in an attempt to sedate McClain and administered 500 milligrams of the drug.
According to the report, McClain relaxed after the injection, was “placed in soft restraints” and loaded into an ambulance. However, the same doctor who administered ketamine realized that “McClain’s chest was not rising on its own and he had no pulse.” He was taken to a hospital where he was declared brain dead three days later.
The county coroner stated that the form of death was “undetermined,” citing no evidence to support a ketamine overdose or whether carotid retention contributed to his death.
Young decided not to file criminal charges against the officers involved. “According to the research presented and applicable Colorado law, there is no reasonable probability of success proving any state crime beyond a reasonable doubt at trial,” he wrote in his decision.
Two months after the incident, McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, wrote on her GoFundMe page that her death was the result of hatred. “Treating humans as gutters because you yourself have unsolved problems in yourself shows guilt or hatred,” he wrote. “We have done this to ourselves by failing to advocate at all levels of community understanding and values.”
McClain’s family called for an independent investigation and “prosecution for the murder.” The city of Aurora opened an external review on June 9, but was quickly sidetracked by the revelation that the attorney hired to lead the investigation was a former police officer who specialized in defending police departments from liability claims, reports CBS Denver.
Aurora Senior Public Information Officer Michael Bryant said the city is now in the process of compiling a “team of experts” from across the country to lead the review together. A report of the original investigation was expected in mid-July, but Bryant said a timeline is now unknown.
Attorney Mari Newman, who represents the McClain family, said in a statement that “only recently, in response to the petition and the increased public scrutiny, did Aurora finally Claim having hired a so-called “independent investigator,” which the media quickly revealed was actually a former police officer-turned-lawyer, whose legal practice is dedicated to defending policemen using excessive force. “
“Clearly, Aurora has no intention of taking responsibility for murdering an innocent young man. All her effort is to defend her brutality at all costs and to lie to the public she must serve,” Newman wrote.
She said the family is “grateful for the millions of people who have stood up to report the murder of their beloved son by Aurora police and doctors.” But she added that “it should not require a massive petition and national media attention for city leaders to do their job.”
Rundell said he recently noticed an increase in petition signatures, attributing the increase to more attention on social media.
“I have noticed many more stories about Elijah’s life rather than the story of his death,” Rundell said. “People are talking about how amazing it was and even how I used to play cat music in the shelters so they weren’t alone. I think this has inspired many people to sign and share their life story.”
Despite the overwhelming call for a further examination of McClain’s death, Young has said that the petition’s signatures are not enough to reopen a case. He told Colorado Politics on June 8: “I am not opening requests-based investigations.”
“Obviously, if there is new evidence to see, I will see it anyway,” he said. “But no. I am not going to open an investigation because people are signing a petition.”
Rundell said he still awaits justice. “Elijah would still be alive today if it weren’t for police brutality, so I expect a conviction from the officers involved,” he said. “In a system that protects these officers, I think they should at least be removed from service.”