More than 3.2 million so far have signed an online petition calling for a review into the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain

By Jeff Truesdell
June 26, 2020 10:52 AM
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Elijah McClain
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Following an outcry on social media, the Colorado Attorney General's Office will investigate the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, a Black man who went into a coma and died after being placed in a chokehold by Aurora police.

"Elijah McClain should be alive today," Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement released Thursday. "His life mattered and his death was tragic. The pain, frustration, and anger that his family and many Coloradans are feeling from his death is understandable and justified."

"Whenever someone dies after an encounter with law enforcement, the community deserves a thorough investigation," he said. "Our investigation will be thorough, guided by the facts, and worthy of public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system."

The City of Aurora also is planning a review, as more than 3.2 million people signed an online petition urging Mayor Mike Coffman, the Aurora Police Department and Adams County District Attorney Dave Young to "bring justice for Elijah" through "a more in-depth" investigation into what happened on August 24, 2019, when McClain was confronted by two officers as he walked home.

The petition demands the immediate removal of the two officers, who remain on the force after Young concluded last November that "there is no reasonable likelihood of success of proving any state crimes beyond a reasonable doubt at trial," reports Denver TV station KUSA.

Weiser's announcement followed an executive order by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis that appointed Weiser as a special prosecutor to investigate the death.

At the time he encountered the officers, McClain was returning from a store where he'd purchased four cans of iced tea. When police approached him, McClain was wearing a ski mask — something the anemic man did often, as his chronic condition usually made his face feel colder when he went on walks.

According to authorities, a struggle ensued as the officers tried to detain the unarmed McClain, placing him in a chokehold and pinning him to the ground for 15 minutes.

While pinned, McClain allegedly started vomiting and told the officers he was having difficulty breathing. Paramedics were summoned to the scene, and, claiming McClain was in an agitated state, they injected him with ketamine, a sedative.

McClain suffered a heart attack and fell into a coma.

He was removed from life support six days later, on Aug. 30, 2019.

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The police administration initially defended the officers' actions because McClain was wearing a ski mask.

Earlier this month, Aurora authorities announced a ban on the use of chokeholds by its officers.

The district attorney took note of the petition that called for a new look at the case as the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta fueled mass protests across the country over the use of police force against Black people.

But Young told Colorado Politics, "I don't open up investigations based on petitions."

He added, "Obviously, if there is new evidence to look at, I will look at the evidence in any case. But no, I'm not going to open up an investigation because people are signing a petition."

Weiser's statement said the attorney general supports Aurora's review of the incident and encouraged the city "to take the necessary time so that their effort is truly independent and effective. We look forward to working with them to the extent possible to ensure accountability and so that important lessons are learned from this tragedy."

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help McClain's relatives.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.