DENVER (CBS4) — The State’s top prosecutor has been assigned to investigate and, if the facts support it, criminally prosecute any individuals whose actions caused the death of Elijah McClain. Gov. Jared Polis signed an Executive Order designating Phil Weiser, Attorney General of Colorado, to review the case.
“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,” Gov. Polis stated Thursday. “I have appointed a special prosecutor to investigate this case, and it’s why earlier this month we took a step in the right direction by signing sweeping bipartisan police reform legislation into law that has now established significant new accountability for officer-involved killings.”
It’s been almost a year since Aurora police announced no charges would be filed against officers in the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain — and the case is getting national attention.
“Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever. A fair and objective process free from real or perceived bias for investigating officer-involved killings is critical,” Gov. Polis tweeted Wednesday.
CBS4 first reported about the death following an altercation between McClain and the officers in Aurora in August of 2019. Someone called 911 to report McClain was “acting odd” and wearing a ski mask as he walked home. The caller told dispatch McClain was not armed, and had not committed a crime.
Investigators said McClain resisted arrest. At one point in the body camera video, an officer is heard saying, “He’s going for your gun.”
During the confrontation with police, McClain was placed in a carotid restraint, a technique that was recently banned by the Aurora Police Department. The Aurora Fire Department was also called to the scene and administered a dose of ketamine to subdue McClain.
McClain is heard in body camera video telling officers he wasn’t resisting. He also told them he was an introvert, a vegetarian and was unable to hurt a fly.
McClain can be heard saying, “I’m just different. That’s all.”
He can also be heard gasping and crying. He throws up — and apologizes. (WARNING: Some viewers may find the video below extremely upsetting.)
You can’t see much of what the officers were doing.
“A struggle ensued to the ground where three body worn cameras did become dislodged, Metz explained in November.
McClain went into cardiac arrest twice on the way to the hospital.
The autopsy report from the Adams County Coroner’s Office declared McClain’s manner and cause of death undetermined. In the report, the coroner stated intense physical exertion and a narrow coronary artery contributed to McClain’s death. The report also stated that the ketamine concentration was at a “therapeutic level.”
Last year, the district attorney’s office released a letter saying no charges would be filed against the three officers involved in the case.”
“Officers had a lawful reason to contact Mr. McClain,” officials stated. “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.”
The officers involved have since returned to duty.
Attorney General Phil Weiser released the following statement regarding the Governor’s executive order appointing him as a special prosecutor to investigate the death of Elijah McClain:
“As directed by the Governor’s executive order, the State will conduct an independent investigation into the tragic death of Elijah McClain, who died after being taken into custody by the Aurora Police Department in August 2019.
“Elijah McClain should be alive today. His life mattered and his death was tragic. The pain, frustration, and anger that his family and many Coloradans are feeling from his death is understandable and justified. Whenever someone dies after an encounter with law enforcement, the community deserves a thorough investigation. Our investigation will be thorough, guided by the facts, and worthy of public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.
“The City of Aurora is planning a review of Elijah McClain’s death. We support their efforts and encourage them to take the necessary time so that their effort is truly independent and effective. We look forward to working with them to the extent possible to ensure accountability and so that important lessons are learned from this tragedy.
“In the coming months, we will work with the General Assembly on any resources needed to fulfill the Executive Order. In order to maintain impartiality and integrity in the process, we will not have further comment on this case until we announce our findings.”
In Aurora, a group is planning a rally at Aurora police headquarters on Saturday, June 27 at 1 p.m.