AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– The family of Elijah McClain has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Aurora and others in the death of the 23-year-old. It’s been nearly a year since he died after an altercation with police.
McClain was walking home from a store where he purchased tea for his brother in August 2019. A passerby called 911 and reported McClain was acting odd. McClain was not armed, and had not committed a crime.
Three officers responded to the call, and located McClain walking northbound near Interstate 225, he was wearing a mask.
McClain didn’t stop when officers told him to, later telling them he had his music on and couldn’t hear them. One officer grabs McClain, who asks the officer to respect his boundaries.
The officers claim McClain resisted arrest, and that he attempted to take one of their guns. Body camera footage does not capture evidence of McClain reaching for their guns.
McClain was placed in a chokehold, and tackled to the ground. Eventually he was given ketamine, a sedative, by an Aurora Fire Department paramedic. He died three days later.
Now in a 106-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, his family is suing the City of Aurora, its officers and fire department by name. It begins with Elijah McClain’s words recorded on body cameras after being stopped by police after a 911 call about a suspicious looking man walking down the street. The words begin with “I can’t breathe, and the final words, “please help me.”
Candice Bailey, the McClain family spokesperson, has been leading the call for criminal charges, but says a civil suit is necessary.
“It was them that allowed this to happen and them that should have to pay because they are not doing their part of a democracy,” she told CBS4’sRick Sallinger.
The lawsuit states in part: “Aurora’s brutality denied Elijah almost his entire adult life, a life of bright promise both for him and for the many people with whom he would have shared his light and compassion.”
Attorney Mari Newman represents the McClain family and said, “The goal of this lawsuit is justice and accountability for the murderers who killed Elijah McClain, to force the Aurora Police Department to end its brutal and racist policing once and for all.”
The lawsuit details with photographs Elijah’s life as violin player, a massage therapist and gentle young man. No specific amount of damages is sought.
Bailey added, “I guess that they have to pay… right, but does that give us the right as a human being to say that the price of a life of Elijah McClain’s life is $1 million, $2 million, $20 million.”
The lawsuit claims the young man died as a result of police force and the use of ketamine by paramedics which the city has continued to use. The complaint lists numerous other incidents of Aurora police interactions with Blacks involving force.
The three officers involved in McClain’s death were removed from patrol duty in June. They have not been charged.
One of the officers, Jason Rosenblatt, was fired over his response to a photo text message, in which three APD officers posed for a picture reenacting the carotid restraint used on McClain. The three fired officers have appealed their terminations.
A spokesman for the City of Aurora said the city attorney’s office is reviewing the lawsuit after being served, but has no comment at this time.
Since McClain’s death last year, there have been calls for the police and paramedics involved to be brought to justice. Those calls reached a new level after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year. His death sparked nationwide protests and a renewed call for justice in many cases involving deaths of Black people at the hands of police.
Aurora has been thrust into an international spotlight as the campaign for Justice for Elijah reached celebrities and other influencers. Several protests demonstrations have targeted Aurora police and city leaders over the past few months.
The Aurora Police Department has vowed to further investigate the circumstances surrounding McClains’s death.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reopened an investigation last month into how ketamine is administered with regards to the death of McClain.
Vanessa Wilson was named the new chief of the Aurora Police Department last week after serving as the department’s interim chief. She said she is committed to rebuilding the public’s trust by empowering police to veer away from strict training protocols and think about whether they are acting on their biases. This comes on the heels of another incident involving Aurora police and Black people.
Aurora’s first female chief, who is white, said the scene filmed by a bystander of the girls lying face down on the ground earlier this month next to a car that police thought was stolen was “inhumane and just unbelievable to watch.” Two of the girls are in handcuffs and a 6-year-old girl wearing a pink crown cries for her mother.