Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson acknowledged trust between residents and police is broken in the aftermath of Elijah McClain’s death. But she declined during a press conference Tuesday to say whether officers involved in his arrest will face consequences in light of a scathing independent investigation into the case.
Citing the ongoing criminal investigation by the State Attorney General’s office, Wilson said she couldn’t comment on potential punishment for two cops directly involved in McClain’s arrest, Officers Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard. She said she didn’t want to interfere with the state’s criminal case.
A third cop involved in McClain’s arrest, Jason Rosenblatt, was fired last year for his involvement in a photograph mocking McClain.
Investigators found responding officers made several missteps, including conducting an initial pat-down and using a carotid hold that they found weren’t justified. Investigators also called into question why paramedics did not examine McClain before giving him ketamine to subdue him, though they said they didn’t find conclusive evidence the sedative played a role in his death.
McClain, 23, died days after he was placed in two carotid holds by police and injected with ketamine by paramedics on August 24, 2019. He had committed no crime when he was approached by officers. McClain’s death sparked protests in the metro last summer following George Floyd’s death in May.
Wilson said the department has made changes since McClain’s death, including banning the hold he was put in. She said some recommendations made by the report have already been implemented, including changing how Aurora police respond to suspicious person reports and requiring Internal Affairs investigations for all in-custody deaths or serious injuries.
Wilson, who was named chief last summer, said the department will evolve to become one people can trust.
“I want to assure the McClain family and the community that we will continue to make changes to address the issues that were not only highlighted in this report, but also going to be highlighted in the other investigations that are ongoing,” Wilson said.
Wilson was joined Tuesday by City Manager Jim Twombly and Aurora Fire Rescue Chief Fernando Gray, who provided a brief overview of some of the changes his agency has made. For example, the agency now requires multiple EMS responders to estimate someone’s weight before giving them medication. The investigation noted that McClain received ketamine based on a single firefighter’s weight estimation that proved to be inaccurate.
Twombly called the independent report “disturbing” and said he’s working with Mayor Mike Coffman and Aurora City Council to establish an independent monitor office to help with accountability and transparency. City lawmakers and activists alike have floated the idea before, and could be similar to the Office of the Independent Monitor in Denver, a civilian-run agency that investigates law enforcement interactions with the public. Wilson said she supported creating a similar office in Aurora.
The three-person team that compiled the investigation discussed its findings with Aurora City Council on Monday. After lawmakers weren’t able to ask questions due to time constrains, Coffman requested a follow-up meeting. The details of that meeting haven’t been announced.
The City of Aurora is awaiting the results of another investigation related to McClain’s death it sanctioned. 21CP Solutions, a firm specializing in civil rights and public safety, is conducting a larger review of Aurora police. Other state and a federal investigation are ongoing.