Aurora City Council has approved an independent probe into Elijah McClain’s death

The Washington, D.C.-based investigator will look at every minute McClain was in contact with an Aurora city official.

Candles and flowers for Elijah McClain Vigil

Candles, art, posters and flowers were placed at the memorial for Elijah McClain on July 11, 2020, at Utah Park in Aurora, Colorado.

(Alyson McClaran for Denverite)

The Aurora City Council voted unanimously on Monday to launch an independent investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, who died last summer after authorities placed him in a chokehold and injected him with ketamine during an attempted arrest.

The 23-year-old Black man’s death sparked international outrage and helped fuel the protest movement against police brutality earlier this summer across the state.

City officials will bring on Jonathan Smith, who leads the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in Washington, D.C. Smith worked in the U.S. Department of Justice during the Obama administration and led a civil investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department after the death of Michael Brown there.

This is the second time the Aurora city council has tried to launch an investigation into McClain’s death — the first person it hired, in the spring, was a former cop, which sparked criticism that the investigation wouldn’t be independent.

Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly told city council members Monday that Smith will lead the investigation into every minute that McClain was in contact with an Aurora city official.

This will start with the 911 call that brought three Aurora police officers to McClain, who was walking down the street after going to a convenience store. It will go through the arrest, where he was placed into two chokeholds through the ambulance ride to the hospital, where McClain suffered cardiac arrest after being administered ketamine. Police were called to check on him after a person saw him wearing a ski mask and said he looked “sketchy.”

Smith and his team will look at anything they want in the probe, including body camera tape and investigative files.

Twombly told city council members the city also plans to hire at least one additional investigator with a medical background to probe the ketamine use by Aurora Fire and Rescue.

“The role of city manager will be to be a contact administrator in this. There won’t be any official employee control,” he said. “The final report will be made public when the investigation is completed.”

This is one of a handful of investigations ongoing into McClain’s death last August. 

Adams County District Attorney Dave Young declined to press criminal charges last year against the cops involved.

That decision sparked ire among Black Lives Matter protesters and among lawmakers at the state capital this summer, who worked to pass a comprehensive police accountability reform bill. McClain’s parents prominently testified in favor of the proposed law.

Gov. Jared Polis tweeted that as a father, his “heart breaks” for McClain’s family. He appointed state Attorney General Phil Weiser to look into whether the cops involved should face any criminal charges. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also looking into McClain’s death. And McClain’s family lawyer, Mari Newman, has said she has started her own investigation into the death.

Aurora city council member Allison Hiltz said it’s been difficult to find investigators without any conflict of interest to help lead the probe. Council mostly looked at experts out of state. She noted they hope to not “be duplicative” with the other investigations.

 

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