Friday, June 26, 2020

A Look at a Colorado Black Man’s Death in Police Encounter

A supporter holds up a shirt to call attention to the death of Elijah McClain in August 2019 in Aurora, Colo., during a news conference on the west steps of the State Capitol after Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a broad police accountability bill Friday, June 19, 2020, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER (AP) — As protests continue across the U.S. against excessive police force against people of color, Elijah McClain’s name has become another rallying cry on social media.

McClain, a 23-year-old Black man in the Denver suburb of Aurora, died in August after police officers confronted him as he was walking to a store. Officers put him in a chokehold and injected him with a sedative.

Investigations by Aurora police and a district attorney produced no charges. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, citing appeals from the public, appointed a special prosecutor on Thursday to examine the case.

Here’s what we know:


McClain was a massage therapist who planned to go to college, his younger sister, Samara McClain, told The Denver Post. McClain’s friends and family said he was as “a spiritual seeker, pacifist, oddball, vegetarian, athlete, and peacemaker who was exceedingly gentle,” according to the Colorado Sentinel.

Samara McClain said her brother often wore masks when he was outside because he had a blood condition that caused him to become cold easily. She also said that her brother was walking to a corner store to get tea for a cousin when someone contacted police to report a suspicious person wearing a ski mask on a warm evening and waving his arms as he walked down a street on Aug. 24.


According to a report by District Attorney Dave Young, Aurora officers responding to the report said McClain was uncooperative when they confronted him. They said they took McClain to the ground when he tried to grab one of their holstered guns. One of the officers then put him in a specialized control hold, pressing against his carotid artery.

Police body camera footage shows McClain telling officers: “Let go of me. I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”

After McClain was kept 15 minutes on the ground, paramedics gave him 500 milligrams of Ketamine, a sedative, to calm him down. McClain subsequently suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and was declared brain dead on Aug. 27. He was taken off life support three days later.

A forensic pathologist working for the Adams County Coroner could not determine what exactly led to his death but said physical exertion during the confrontation likely contributed.


Three officers were placed on paid administrative leave while the incident was investigated by Denver and Aurora police, as well as the district attorney’s office.

District Attorney Young said in a letter to then-Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz that he could not find indisputable evidence that Aurora officers or others used “unjustified” force” and that it was “improbable for the prosecution to prove cause of death beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.”

Aurora hired an attorney, Eric Daigle, to investigate, then terminated the contract when it was learned he had been a police officer in Connecticut.

Aurora’s City Council is debating whether to hire another third-party investigator. Mayor Mike Coffman has set a July 6 deadline for the council to decide.


Many citizens and activists and some lawmakers in Colorado have long protested the outcome. McClain’s case resurfaced during local and nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black men and women after confrontations with police.

An Instagram account, “justiceforelijahmcclain,” has more than 150,000 followers and a hashtag with more than 17,000 posts. A petition demanding justice for McClain had nearly 3 million signatures late Thursday.

Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.”

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