2 million signatures convinced Jared Polis to reinvestigate the murder of Elijah McClain
‘Aurora, Colorado, police attack protesters after investigation reopened into 2019 death of Elijah McClain’, Matthew MacEgan, 30 June 2020,wsws.
In the wake of the global protests against police violence sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, Colorado Governor Jared Polis (Democrat) announced last week that his administration will reexamine the case of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man who died in police custody in Aurora, Colorado, in [August] 2019.
Polis stated Thursday that he signed an executive order directing Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate McClain’s death. “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.” Polis said that Weiser would criminally prosecute individuals if the facts support such action. [snip]
The City of Aurora told reporters that it is planning an independent investigation. An e-mail to CNN stated, “The mayor, City Council and city manager are working to initiate a new independent, external review of the actions of police, firefighters and paramedics in the Elijah McClain case. We are considering a team of experts from across the country to be involved and provide insight from different perspectives.”
Mari Newman, an attorney for the McClain family, has called for officials to bring charges against the officers. “It shouldn’t take millions of people signing a petition, and it shouldn’t take international media attention for elected officials to do their jobs.” Newman posed the question, “Why did it take almost a year…for a responsible adult to finally step up and do what should have happened right from the outset? Last year we stood on the municipal center steps demanding an investigation, and what did we hear then? Crickets.”
What is known so far is that McClain was stopped by three white police officers on August 24, 2019, as he walked home from a convenience store. The officers were responding to a 911 call that described a “suspicious person.” The young man was reportedly wearing a cloth mask due to respiratory problems and was singing and dancing as he walked, listening to music on headphones.
Body camera evidence includes audio of the encounter, during which McClain can be heard saying, “I’m an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.” The video also shows the young man telling the officers that he was trying to stop his music so that he could hear them. They then began to arrest him, and an officer can be heard saying, “he just grabbed your gun, dude.” The police report states that McClain “resisted officer contact,” after which a struggle ensued.
The video shows one officer wrestle McClain to the ground, and another can be heard threatening McClain: “If you keep messing around, I’m going to bring my dog out, and he’s going to dog bite you.” McClain was then placed in a “carotid” or choke hold, during which he briefly lost consciousness. During the struggle, all three of the officers dislodged their body cameras, so the remainder of the altercation does not appear on video. Officers claim that once they released the hold, McClain started struggling again.
According to an overview of the incident provided by police, paramedics arrived at the scene and administered ketamine to sedate McClain. According to a letter from the district attorney, McClain suffered a heart attack while in the ambulance, and he was declared brain-dead three days later. His autopsy did not determine cause of death but listed “intense physical exertion” and a narrow left coronary artery as contributing factors. The coroner found the amount of ketamine in his system to be a “therapeutic” amount.
At the time of McClain’s death, Adams County District Attorney Dave Young declined to file criminal charges in the case. The officers in the case were placed on administrative leave but were later reinstated. In February of this year, a police review board declared that the “force applied during the altercation to include the carotid control hold and the force applied during the altercation was within policy and consistent with training.”
When Young was asked recently why no one was prosecuted at the time of the incident, he responded, “I’m not here to condone their actions. In fact, I disagree with what they did on the night of August 24, 2019.” He explained that the real reason was that the forensic autopsy report could not determine McClain’s cause of death. “That’s the question we don’t know, and in my business, I can’t take a case to court that we don’t know the answers to those questions. I cannot take a case to the jury where I don’t know what the cause of death is on a homicide case.”
Newman called the autopsy report ridiculous. “The autopsy was attended by two members of the Aurora police department, two members of the district attorney’s office, and it bends over backwards to say everything except the truth.” Such obstacles to ascertaining the truth about the evening in question, including the dislodging of body cameras, conjure up those used to delay the arresting and indicting of the killers of Ahmaud Arbery for more than two months earlier this year.
Polis followed up his announcement last week by signing a new police accountability law on Friday. This “Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act” purportedly mandates body cameras, requires public reporting on policing, prevents rehiring of “bad actors,” holds individual officers liable for their actions, restricts the use of chemical agents and projectiles, and establishes that officers can only use deadly force when there is an imminent risk of danger to human life if apprehension is delayed.
This new “integrity” act, however, did not stop Aurora police from disrupting and suppressing a public, outdoor violin vigil that was held in memory of McClain over the weekend. Several musicians attended, including teenagers and children, bringing violins, violas, cellos, and other instruments to a public park to honor McClain, who was known for playing his violin during his lunch break to animals waiting to be adopted at a local shelter. A separate protest march had taken place earlier that day. [snip]
Democratic Colorado Representative Leslie Herod, who sponsored the police reform bill signed by Polis on Friday, called on Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, a Republican, to address the use of pepper spray by police at Saturday’s protest. Coffman instead thanked the “police brass” in a tweet on Sunday for “making sure that the protest today did not get out of control so that those who wanted to peacefully protest were allowed to do so.”
Additional details from The Cut’s: ‘What We Know About the Killing of Elijah McClain’, June 29, 2020, Claire Lampen
“Body-cam footage of the arrest does exist, although the ADP did not release it to the public until late November, months after McClain’s death. In the footage, an officer can be heard admitting McClain had done nothing illegal prior to his arrest; another accuses McClain of reaching for one of their guns. McClain, meanwhile, can be heard asking the officers to stop, explaining that they started to arrest him as he was “stopping [his] music to listen.” He gasps that he cannot breathe. He tells them his name, says he has ID but no gun, and pleads that his house is “right there.” He sobs, and vomits, and apologizes: “I wasn’t trying to do that,” he says. “I just can’t breathe correctly.”
Very little of the officers’ protocol can be seen, however, because all of their body cams allegedly fell off during the arrest. But if you watch the video from about the 15-minute mark (warning: the footage contains violent and upsetting content), you’ll see someone pick up the body camera and point it toward McClain and one of the officers, before dropping it back into the grass. Around 15:34, one of the officers seems to say, “Leave your camera there.”
McClain’s autopsy also raised questions. The Adams County Coroner announced in early November that it wasn’t clear whether his death had been an accident, or carotid hold–related homicide, or the result of natural causes. The coroner listed McClain’s cause of death as “undetermined,” but points to hemorrhaging in his neck and abrasions on different parts of his body. Noting that “an idiosyncratic drug reaction (an unexpected reaction to a drug even at a therapeutic level) cannot be ruled out” in reference to the ketamine dosage, the report’s wording seemed to pin responsibility on McClain himself.”
From the Colorado Sentinel, UNLIKELY SUSPECT: Those who knew Elijah balk at Aurora police account of his death’, October 27, 2019
“McClain was 23. He had been a massage therapist for about four years. He lived in the neighborhood with a cousin. He was black.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Marna Arnett, a client of McClain’s for years at the Massage Envy in Greenwood Village, calling the police response “brutal.” “He was the sweetest, purest person I have ever met. He was definitely a light in a whole lot of darkness.”
That’s the prevailing attitude in a community left grappling with the loss of McClain. Two-months after his death, friends and family described him as a spiritual seeker, pacifist, oddball, vegetarian, athlete, and peacemaker who was exceedingly gentle.
By his teenage years, he’d taught himself to play guitar and violin. On his lunch breaks, McClain would hoof his instruments to animal shelters to perform for abandoned creatures, believing the music put them at ease. [snip]
McClain’s entire look changed once he started running, his mother said. He seemed to always wear those rubber shoes with toes. He also bought a runner’s mask that covered his face, much like a ski mask.
Elijah McClain at a convenience store in Aurora shortly before encountering police while walking home. Witnesses inside the store told family members they were not alarmed by the mask Elijah wore while buying iced tea. Family members said Elijah wore the mask frequently
Sheneen believes the mask was a kind of Dri-fit material donned to keep his face warm and wick moisture while he ran long distances.
But he also began to wear the mask even when he wasn’t running or working out, in public places.
Behrens and Bixby said they don’t remember McClain wearing the mask. But Bixby isn’t surprised he’d wear it: She said McClain suffered from anemia, rendering him cold even on hot summer nights. When they’d run together on the High Line Canal trail, he’d wear long sleeves on even the hottest day, she said.
But she said he also privately suffered from social anxiety, and speculates he’d don the mask as a way to make himself feel more comfortable interacting with people.
Arnett, his client and friend, also learned that he was socially anxious and isn’t surprised he didn’t reveal that to her. “It makes sense when you are dealing with that kind of anxiety. You’re not going to openly talk about it,” she said.
“He would hide behind that mask,” Arnett said. “It was protection for him, too. It made him more comfortable being in the outside world.”
June 29, 2020, ‘Cops in Riot Gear Stormed a Violin Vigil for Elijah McClain'By Claire Lampen, thecut.com
“Images shared on social media show lines of officers in helmets, bulletproof vests, and gas masks marching onto a lawn outside the Aurora Municipal Center on Saturday evening, aggressively dispersing people. Attendees say police used, or threatened to use, tear gas — a chemical weapon — on protesters. A spokesperson for the APD denied this allegation on Sunday, telling the Cut: “Tear gas was not used yesterday. There was pepper spray deployed but tear gas was not used.”
Saturday’s events began with a rally and march organized by Denver’s Party for Socialism and Liberation, scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. in the park between the APD headquarters and the Aurora Municipal Center. That would be followed by a student-led rally and another march, which took off from the adjacent Municipal Center sometime after 5 p.m. Violinists — including six-time Grammy nominee Ashanti Floyd, from Georgia, and Lee England Jr., of New York City — planned a vigil in to conclude the day’s actions later that evening, in Aurora’s City Center Park.
According to those in attendance, the event started out peacefully, though many noticed a strong police presence. At around 8:30 p.m. — about a half hour into the vigil — officers in full riot gear began closing in on the gathering. Police “quickly started moving in on just all protesters, getting them to move away and step back,” Carlos Espino, who was at the event, told the Cut. He saw a “smoke plume in the air,” which he believed was tear gas. “We could smell it from where we were, which was several hundred yards away.” Other protesters speculated that the haze may have come from smoke bombs.
Yesterday Aurora, Colorado was holding a violin vigil for Elijah McClain, who was known for playing his violin, especially to animals.
Then the police decided they’d seen enough.pic.twitter.com/aujN7xxpAQ
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) June 28, 2020
The @AuroraPD used tear gas canisters and aggressively pushed peaceful protestors out of the park where they were watching a violin vigil to #ElijahMcClain Take a look at the videos and see if this seems like an appropriate response by the APD. pic.twitter.com/LWI1IyE4Lk
— Jolene Fisher (@fisherjolene) June 28, 2020
Peaceful gathering to honor the life of #ElijahMcClain turned in a hostile “unlawful protest”. @AuroraPD antagonized peaceful protestors and put people in harm and used teargas to dispurse people attending a vigil. Shameful! pic.twitter.com/HtWS3mxFc2
— Carlos Espino (@CarlitoPlanet) June 28, 2020