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Death of Elijah McClain

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Elijah Jovan McClain
Elijah McClain with checkered shirt and glasses.jpg
Elijah McClain
Born(1996-02-25)February 25, 1996
DiedAugust 24, 2019(2019-08-24) (aged 23)
NationalityAmerican
OccupationMassage therapist
Known forDied after apprehension by police and injected with 500mg ketamine as a sedative by paramedics

Elijah Jovan McClain was a 23-year-old African-American massage therapist from Aurora, Colorado who was killed after an encounter with police while walking home on the evening of August 24, 2019. An Aurora citizen reported to police that McClain was wearing a ski mask and acting "sketchy", although the caller also indicated that he did not believe anyone was in danger, and that he believed McClain was unarmed.[1] The three police officers who were involved in the incident[2] said that their body cameras were knocked off during a struggle with him. While he was being forcibly held to the ground by police, paramedics administered ketamine to McClain to sedate him. While being transported to the hospital, McClain suffered a cardiac arrest. He died seven days later after being removed from life support. McClain's autopsy was inconclusive.[3][4][5][6]

On June 24, 2020, after a social media outcry and Aurora lawmakers' requests for a new, third-party investigation into McClain's death,[7] Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced his administration would reexamine the case.[8]

Background

At the time of his death, Elijah McClain had been a massage therapist for about four years. He shared an apartment with his cousin close to the site at which he was taken into police custody and consequently died. He had never been arrested or charged with a crime. Friends and family described him as a "spiritual seeker, pacifist, oddball, vegetarian, athlete, and peacemaker who was exceedingly gentle."[9]

McClain's mother Sheneen moved her family of six from Denver to Aurora to avoid gang violence, thinking it would be safer in Aurora. She said that Elijah was home schooled and she could see at an early age that he was "intellectually gifted but fiercely independent." While still a teenager he taught himself to play violin and guitar and during lunch breaks he brought his instruments to animal shelters and played for abandoned animals, believing that music put them at ease. Friends said that his gentleness with animals was expressed with humans as well. One of his clients recalled him as "the sweetest, purest person I have ever met. He was definitely a light in a whole lot of darkness." An acquaintance said "I don’t even think he would set a mouse trap if there was a rodent problem." [10]

Death

External video
Audio recording of the 9-1-1 call made on McClain and police body camera footage of McClain being apprehended.  on YouTube (3 hour 8 min 30 sec)

On the evening of August 24, 2019, an Aurora citizen called 9-1-1 after seeing McClain walking down the street wearing a ski mask and flailing his arms. Friends of McClain interviewed after the incident speculated that this arm-flailing was most likely just dancing, as he is believed to have been listening to music at the time of the call.[11] The same caller affirmed during the call that he did not believe McClain was armed and that he did not believe any person, including McClain, was in immediate danger. According to the police report, when they confronted McClain, he resisted and Officers Woodyard and Rosenblatt heard Officer Rodema shout "he is going for your gun" but didn't know whose gun was being referenced. Later in an interview Roedema described how McClain "reached for and grabbed the grip of Rosenblatt's gun that was holstered."[12] The officers said there is no camera footage of his reach for the gun because all of their cameras had fallen off. However, the cameras continued to audio record their conversations and one officer can be heard to later say he did not remember feeling McClain go for his gun. An attorney representing McClain's family said the officers involved slammed McClain into a wall immediately after apprehending him.[13][14]

Officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema held McClain on the ground for 15 minutes. While he was detained McClain was clearly in distress, sobbing and repeatedly saying "I can't breathe", and vomiting several times, for which he apologized and said: "I'm sorry, I wasn’t trying to do that, I can't breathe correctly."[15] Officer Nathan Woodyard twice applied a carotid control hold, cutting off blood flow on the side of his neck until he briefly fainted. One officer threatened he would have his police dog bite McClain as he lay handcuffed and pinned to the ground.[16] After McClain was restrained more officers arrived and audio of the conversation records them saying that McClain was “acting crazy,” that he was “definitely on something,” and that he had attacked them with "incredible, crazy strength" when they tried to restrain him. They also said that at one point three officers were on top of him.[17] Paramedics injected him with 500 mg of ketamine as a sedative to reduce his agitation. McClain suffered a cardiac arrest while being taken to the hospital. He was pronounced brain dead on August 30, 2019.[7]

The body cameras on at least one of the police officers became unattached from their uniforms during the encounter, but the audio can still be heard. During the recording, when one of the body cameras was still attached to an officer, another officer can be heard telling him to move his camera. The attorney representing McClain's family accused the officers of purposely taking off their body cameras to support a false allegation that McClain reached for a gun, though this claim was never supported by any evidence during the subsequent investigation.[16]

According to a police report, the coroner could not determine the exact cause of death and therefore listed McClain's death as undetermined. Despite this, the same coroner stated that it may have been an accident resulting from an idiosyncratic drug reaction, could have been homicide if the officers’ use of the carotid hold contributed to his death, or that his death also might have been caused by an asthma attack.[18][19][20]

Investigation

2019

On August 28, 2019, all three Aurora Police officers involved at the scene were put on paid administrative leave. Adams County District Attorney Dave Young later determined that none of the three officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema committed any criminal acts, and no charges were filed against them.[21] The police body camera footage and audio of the initial 9-1-1 call were released publicly by the Aurora Police Department on November 22, 2019.[22]

2020

In February 2020, Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly announced that he would begin a Critical Incident Review on the case to investigate how police and fire departments reacted during the incident. He also announced an audit on the body cameras of the Aurora Police Department to further investigate how well Aurora police officers comply with body camera policies. At that time he said that a review of the incident found that the force applied during the encounter was consistent with training as determined by the Force Review Board.[23]

On June 6, an online petition which called for a reopening of the investigation into the death of McClain and a request that the officers involved be removed from duty had been signed by more than 820,000 people. Members of the Aurora City Council’s safety committee also requested an independent, third-party investigation into the death. County District Attorney Dave Young said he was aware of the petition and commented, "I don't open up investigations based on petitions." [24]

On June 10, three members of the city public safety policy committee sent City Manager Jim Twombly a letter asking for a new "neutral, third-party" look at McClain's death. Twombly responded saying that the city had already initiated an independent review of his death under the direction of Eric Daigle, a former Connecticut state police officer and attorney who now consults on the use of force and related policies. Council members replied saying they were not satisfied with the city's choice of a former police officer: "[We] don’t consider Eric Daigle to be independent and neutral due to his long career in law enforcement. We need a truly independent review."[7]

On June 26, a spokesperson for the city of Aurora announced that all three officers involved in the incident had been reassigned to working in non-enforcement capacity in an attempt to protect their safety. Woodyard and Rosenblatt were moved on June 13, while Roedema was moved on June 20.[25]

By June 25, more than three million people had signed the petition demanding an independent investigation into McClain's death and on that date Governor Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor to investigate McClain's death. He also signed an executive order directing the Attorney General, Phil Weiser, to investigate and possibly prosecute the officers involved. Polis said in a statement, ""Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern."[26][27] Mari Newman, the family's attorney, commented, "Finally a responsible adult has stepped in and thank goodness that the governor has shown some leadership."[28]

On June 29, the interim police chief announced that multiple officers had been placed on administrative leave and were under investigation after photos of them surfaced that had been taken near the site where McClain died. The photos, taken in October 2019, reportedly show police officers posing inappropriately and reenacting the carotid restraint used on McClain before his death. [29][30] In July, three officers were fired from the department in relation to the photos, while one officer resigned. Only one officer involved in the photos was present during the arrest that ended up in McClain's death.[31]

Commentary

In Colorado EMS providers are allowed to use ketamine to treat a syndrome known as excited delirium. When the EMS arrived on the scene of the encounter McClain was already cuffed and restrained on the ground. One of the officers can be heard telling the EMS that McClain was “acting crazy,” that he was “definitely on something,” and that he had attacked them with "incredible, crazy strength" when they tried to restrain him.[32] Estimating that McClain weighed 220 pounds (100 kg), the medic gave him an injection of 500 mg of ketamine. According to information provided to NBC by Aurora Fire Rescue, the standard dose of ketamine is 5 milligrams per each kilogram of a person's weight. The coroner's report states that McClain was 5 feet, 6 inches tall (1,68 meter) and weighed 140 pounds (63 kg). That would mean that he should have received about 320 milligrams.[33]

The attorney for McClain's family, Mari Newman, says that medics had no right or reason to inject Elijah with ketamine and has asked for an investigation. Neuroscientist Carl Hart, chair of Columbia University's psychology department, commented, "Why anyone would be giving ketamine in that circumstance is beyond me." Carl Takei, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who focuses on police practices, said "ascribing a person's actions to excited delirium can create a shield for officers who use excessive force."[34]

Protests and memorials

A very small protest was held in November 2019 in response to the District Attorney's decision not to file charges. McClain's mother Sheneen was scheduled to take part but was in too much grief to appear and speak.[21][35]

A second event for McClain was held on June 6 after the death of George Floyd seemed to have brought about a widespread protest movement. One of the event organizers remarked that the McClain family must have felt that the death of their loved one had been in vain when they saw the streets of Denver filled with protesters showing support for George Floyd while their loved one seemed to have been all but forgotten. One speaker said, “Today, I see all of your faces. And although it happened because of George Floyd, if we’re not dealing with the atrocities, with the murders, with the brutality inside of Aurora, we have no business shouting another person’s name."[36][37]

In June 2020, a memorial mural was painted in honor of McClain in Denver, Colorado, alongside murals of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.[38]

June 27 protest

On June 27, thousands of people gathered for a day of protests, speaker presentations, and an evening violin concert at Aurora City Center Park. Before the protest began, Aurora police issued a statement in support of a peaceful protest but warned of "outsiders" whose goal, they said, is to be destructive. Government buildings were boarded up, and police sat atop City Hall and the library observing the protest."[39]

No arrests were reported during the day, although both directions of Interstate 225 highway were shut down around 3 p.m. by thousands of marching protesters. In the evening people, including families with children, began to gather in City Center Park and musicians formed a circle and began to play a violin concert in honor of McClain, who was known to be an accomplished player. At that time the police announced that the protest was now an "illegal gathering", and ordered people to leave the park or they would use pepper spray to disperse them. Shortly thereafter the police, dressed in riot gear, moved into the crowd. Several attendees reported smoke and gas canisters were used. A police statement later reported that "pepper spray was used after a small group of people gathered rocks [and] sticks, knocked over a fence, & ignored orders to move back."[40][41] Various videos showed attendees seated on the public lawn without any such actions.[42]

See also

References

  1. ^ transcript. "Elijah McClain Killing 911 Call & Police Body Cam Footage Transcript". Rev. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  2. ^ Snowdon, Quincy; Writer, Sentinel Staff (November 24, 2019). "Adams County DA: No criminal charges against Aurora police, medics in death of Elijah McClain". Sentinel Colorado. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  3. ^ Snowdon, Quincy. "Elijah Mcclain Tragedy Illustration And Anger Ripples Through Social Media".
  4. ^ Phillips, Noelle. "Controversial Police Deaths In Colorado". Denver Post.
  5. ^ "Body Worn Camera Regarding the In-Custody Death of Elijah McClain". Aurora Police.
  6. ^ "Aurora man to be taken off life support after confrontation with police left him brain dead". The Denver Post. August 30, 2019. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Snowdon, Quincy; Writer, Staff (June 11, 2020). "Aurora lawmakers demand new Elijah McClain death query; chief mandates new police procedures". Sentinel Colorado. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  8. ^ "Colorado governor's office to examine case of Black man who died in police custody after millions demand justice". CNN. June 25, 2020. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  9. ^ Stringer, Grant. "UNLIKELY SUSPECT: Those who knew Elijah balk at Aurora police account of his death". Sentinel Colorado. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  10. ^ Stringer, Grant. "UNLIKELY SUSPECT: Those who knew Elijah balk at Aurora police account of his death". Sentinel Colorado. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  11. ^ Stringer, Grant (October 28, 2019). "UNLIKELY SUSPECT: Those who knew Elijah balk at Aurora police account of his death". Sentinel Colorado. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  12. ^ "The investigation into the death of Elijah McClain" (PDF). Police document. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  13. ^ Roberts, Michael (October 2, 2019). "Torture, Murder Claimed in Elijah McClain Aurora Police Death". Westword. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  14. ^ "Elijah McClain case: 2019 death of Black man in Colorado police custody receives renewed attention, new investigation". ABC Eyewitness News. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  15. ^ Tompkins, Lucy (June 25, 2020). "Here's What You Need to Know About Elijah McClain's Death" – via NYTimes.com.
  16. ^ a b Nicholson, Kieran (November 23, 2019). "No criminal charges against Aurora officers in death of Elijah McClain". The Denver Post. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  17. ^ "Here's What You Need to Know About Elijah McClain's Death". The New York Times. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  18. ^ Snowdon, Quincy; Stringer, Grant; Writers, Staff (November 9, 2019). "CORONER: Cause of Elijah McClain death unclear; homicide by Aurora police not ruled out". Sentinel Colorado. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  19. ^ "Elijah McClain Autopsy Report". Scribd. November 12, 2019. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
  20. ^ Snowdon, Quincy; Stringer, Grant; Writers, Staff (November 9, 2019). "Adams County DA: No criminal charges against Aurora police, medics in death of Elijah McClain". Sentinel Colorado. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  21. ^ a b ""Murderers! Murderers!": Elijah McClain's supporters outraged Aurora officers won't be charged". The Denver Post. November 24, 2019. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  22. ^ Lampen, Claire (June 23, 2020). "What We Know About the Killing of Elijah McClain". The Cut. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  23. ^ Politics, ALAYNA ALVAREZ Colorado. "WATCH | Body-worn camera video from Elijah McClain's encounter with Aurora police". Colorado Springs Gazette. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  24. ^ Politics, ALAYNA ALVAREZ Colorado. "WATCH | Body-worn camera video from Elijah McClain's encounter with Aurora police". Colorado Springs Gazette. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  25. ^ "Officers involved in Elijah McClain's death re-assigned in "effort to protect" them". www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  26. ^ "Elijah McClain case: 2019 death of Black man in Colorado police custody receives renewed attention, new investigation". ABC Eyewitness News. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  27. ^ Yancey-Bragg, N'dea. "Aurora police officers under investigation after being photographed near where Elijah McClain died". USA TODAY. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
  28. ^ "YouTube video". YouTube. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  29. ^ Timothy, Bella. "Multiple Colorado officers under investigation after appearing in photos taken at Elijah McClain's memorial". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  30. ^ Coleman, Justine. "Officers under investigation over photos taken near site of Elijah McClain's memorial". The Hill. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  31. ^ Thorbecke, Catherine (July 3, 2020). "Colorado police officers fired for recreating chokehold in photos at Elijah McClain memorial". ABC News.
  32. ^ "Here's What You Need to Know About Elijah McClain's Death". The New York Times. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  33. ^ Ortiz, Erik. "Elijah McClain was injected with ketamine while handcuffed. Some medical experts worry about its use during police calls". NBC. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  34. ^ Ortiz, Erik. "Elijah McClain was injected with ketamine while handcuffed. Some medical experts worry about its use during police calls". NBC. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  35. ^ "Aurora officers on leave after altercation leaves man hospitalized". FOX31 Denver. August 29, 2019. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  36. ^ "Rally in memory of Elijah McClain shows police brutality protests are moving closer to home". Denverite. June 7, 2020. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  37. ^ "Elijah McClain's Mother Pleads For Concrete Change Following Protests". June 7, 2020. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  38. ^ "Denver artists create murals featuring Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor". KIII. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  39. ^ "Thousands gather in Aurora to protest Elijah's McClain's death; tensions rise as evening falls". The Denver Post. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  40. ^ Evelyn, Kenya. "Elijah McClain: police use pepper spray to disperse violin vigil". The Guardian. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  41. ^ "YouTube video". YouTube. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  42. ^ Lampen, Claire. "Cops in Riot Gear Stormed a Violin Vigil for Elijah McClain". The Cut. Retrieved July 2, 2020.


External links

  • [1], Elijah McClain Killing 911 Call & Police Body Cam Footage Transcript
  • [2] ABC News video "What happened to Elijah McClain? Case draws new attention amid nationwide protests" -- July 1, 2020
  • [3] Police report of investigation into the death of Elijah McClain -- Novemeber 22, 2019