Officers Who Staged Photo Reenacting Chokehold on Elijah McClain Are Fired: 'We're Sickened'
Elijah McClain's family compared the photos of images taken as "souvenirs" of lynchings in the Jim Crow South
McClain, 23, an unarmed Black man, went into a coma and died after being placed in a chokehold by Aurora police in August 2019. The Colorado Attorney General's Office opened an investigation into his death this month after a public outcry, including a petition that attracted millions of signatures.
The photo was taken at a memorial site where McClain was put in the chokehold. It shows three officers Jaron Jones, Erica Marrero and Kyle Dittrich. Jones resigned earlier this week and Marrero and Dittrich have been fired, interim police chief Vanessa Wilson said at a Friday press conference.
A fourth officer, Jason Rosenblatt, was also fired after he allegedly responded “haha” when he was texted the photo recreating the chokehold and another photo of the officers smiling, according to a police internal affairs investigation obtained by PEOPLE.
PEOPLE was unable to reach any of the officers.
At the press conference, Wilson said, “We are ashamed, we’re sickened and we’re angry."
"While the allegations of this internal affairs case are not criminal, it is a crime against humanity and decency," she added.
Police said the photos were taken on Oct. 20, 2019, about two months after McClain died. No charges have been filed in connection with his 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.
Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.
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.
McClain Family: Photos Resemble 'Souvenirs' of Lynchings
CBS Denver reports the McClain family released a statement after seeing the photos saying: “Just when you think the Aurora police cannot get any worse, they reach a new low. This is a department with police who tackled an innocent young Black man, inflicted fifteen minutes of multiple kinds of excessive force, including two carotid chokeholds, who stood over him joking, ‘Don’t get that on me’ while he was vomiting from the pain, and threatened to sic a dog on him because he wasn’t lying still enough while dying.
“This a department that exonerated all of the officers who killed Elijah McClain and those who failed to intervene to stop the torture. This is a department that spewed pepper spray on peaceful protesters and mourners playing their violins as a tribute to Elijah’s life. Now we learn that this is a department where uniformed police officers feel empowered to make a mockery of killing an innocent young Black man by returning to the scene of Elijah’s murder at the hands of fellow APD officers to take photos of themselves laughingly reenacting the chokehold used to murder Elijah.
RELATED VIDEO: A Bike Violation, A Fatal Police Encounter: ‘They Treated Him Like Garbage’
“They then shared their mimicry of Elijah’s murder with their fellow APD officers as a department-wide joke. APD’s conduct is no different than that of white supremacists of at the height of the Jim Crow South who snapped smiling pictures of themselves at the scenes of brutal, lethal lynchings of Black men, keeping the images of torture as souvenirs or even turning them into postcards to send to friends.”
Earlier this month, Aurora authorities announced a ban on the use of chokeholds by its officers.
In a statement posted to Facebook, the Aurora Police Association, the union representing the officers, called the firings a “rush to judgment,” accusing Wilson of being “willing to disregard the rights of our members and due process that is afforded to all police employees.”
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.