The family of Elijah McClain filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in federal court against the city of Aurora, several police officers and paramedics, who they allege are responsible for the 23-year-old’s death last summer.
McClain died after being placed in two carotid holds by police and then injected with ketamine by paramedics attempting to calm him. He was not suspected of committing any crimes when police approached him.
McClain, a professional massage therapist, is described as a gentle soul, an animal lover and a self-taught violinist in the 106-page civil rights complaint.
McClain was walking back from a convenience store, where he had purchased iced tea, on Aug. 24, 2019, when officers attempted to take him into custody, pinning him down for 18 minutes — 15 of those minutes he was handcuffed, according to the complaint.
They were responding to a 911 call of a man walking down the street looking “sketchy.”
“My name is Elijah McClain. That’s all. That’s what I was doing. I was just going home. I’m an introvert and I’m different,” a sobbing McClain said to police as they pinned him to the ground, according to the complaint. “I’m just different. I’m just different, that’s all. That’s all I was doing. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why were you attacking me? I don’t do guns. I don’t even kill flies. I don’t eat meat … I am a vegetarian.”
There was no immediate response from Aurora city officials on the lawsuit.
When paramedics arrived on the scene, McClain was administered a 500 mg dose of ketamine that lawyers allege was too big for his body weight. McClain weighed 143 pounds, and the dose was for a 200 pound man.
“Defendant Cichuniec had every opportunity to observe that Elijah was not exhibiting signs of excited delirium and there was no justification to medicate him at all,” the complaint said. “Defendant Cooper later admitted that part of his error was simply lazy math — he had estimated Elijah to be 200 pounds.”
Cichuniec is an APD lieutenant, and Cooper is a paramedic.
Aurora Paramedics have permission from the state Department of Public Health and the Environment to administer ketamine involuntarily to people exhibiting signs of “excited delirium” — but McClain’s family lawyers allege that at the time of the arrest, McClain was not showing excited delirium symptoms, including agitation, paranoia or hallucinations, according to the complaint.
McClain’s death received national attention this spring in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota and became part of Colorado’s protest movement against police brutality. McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, was prominent at the state legislature earlier this summer urging lawmakers to pass a sweeping police accountability bill in wake of her son’s death.
In the complaint, McClain’s family lawyer, Mari Newman, detailed ten pages of police brutality complaints dating back to 2003 in the Aurora Police Department — including an incident on Sunday in which Aurora officers drew guns on a Black family, including four children, after mistaking a car that was stolen.
There are three separate investigations into McClain’s death from the federal government, state attorney general’s office and the city of Aurora.
On Tuesday, the McClain family wasn’t granting interviews, but Newman said they hoped the lawsuit “achieved justice for Elijah McClain … and ends Aurora’s racist policing.”