Alabama doctor, former Arizona cop join Aurora’s independent Elijah McClain investigation

The two complete a three-member team looking into the events that led to McClain’s death in August 2019.

A flower and candlelight vigil for Elijah McClain in Aurora on July 11, 2020

Kate Newton, left, and Taylor Bergeron bought flowers to place at the memorial during a candlelight and floral vigil for Elijah McClain on July 11, 2020, at Utah Park in Aurora, Colo.

(Alyson McClaran for Denverite)
(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly on Thursday said Dr. Melissa Costello and Roberto Villaseñor will be joining attorney Jonathan Smith as part of the city’s independent investigation into events leading to Elijah McClain’s death last year.

Twombly made the announcement during the Aurora City Council’s public safety committee meeting. Villaseñor, a former cop with the Tuscon police department, works for 21CP Solutions, which is the same company the city has hired to complete a department-wide review of Aurora police announced this week. He will serve as the police expert on the investigative team, while Costello will provide medical expertise.

Villaseñor’s connection to 21CP Solutions raised questions from Councilman-at-large Curtis Gardner, who said he wants to ensure the reviews are separate. Councilman Juan Marcano said he shared his colleague’s concerns.

Twombly said he doesn’t think one review will affect the other. He agreed to work with the city’s legal team to create a “firewall” between the two reviews.

Twombly said the department-wide investigation will look into things like Aurora police’s use of force, any discriminatory practices, officer misconduct and accountability, community engagement and civilian complaints. The review will help create a “reform” agenda Twombly said will be made public once it’s completed.

The investigation involving Costello and Villaseñor is much more narrow. It will look into actions by police and paramedics the night police attempted to detain McClain in August 2019. McClain died after being placed in two carotid holds by police and injected with ketamine by paramedics trying to calm him. He was not suspected of committing any crimes when police approached him.

Costello works as an emergency-medicine doctor in southern Alabama.

Villaseñor was appointed by President Obama to serve on the President’s National Task Force on 21st Century Policing in 2014 and spent 35 years with Tuscon police. Twombly said Villaseñor has experience reviewing police use-of-force incidents, including serving as a monitor in Baltimore after Freddie Gray died after being arrested in 2015.

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