“Elijah committed no crime, yet, like many interactions between Black people and the City of Aurora, his ended in tragedy,” the federal civil rights lawsuit alleges

By Christine Pelisek
August 12, 2020 03:11 PM
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Elijah McClain
| Credit: GoFundMe

The parents of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, the Black man who went into a coma and died after being placed in a chokehold by Aurora police, has sued the city of Aurora.

The federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit, which was also filed against numerous Aurora police officers, as well as a paramedic and a medical director, alleges excessive force, failure to provide medical care and negligence.

The lawsuit also accuses the Aurora Police Department of “persistently” brutalizing people of color and Black people at “a rate significantly greater than their proportion in the Aurora community.”

In the lawsuit, which was obtained by PEOPLE, McClain's parents, Sheneen McClain and Lawayne Mosley, said they were “seeking both accountability for the profound loss of a beautiful soul, and to ensure that Elijah did not die in vain by sending a resounding message that racism and brutality have no place in American law enforcement.”

On Tuesday, the same day the lawsuit was filed, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office confirmed that it had been investigating “patterns and practices of the Aurora Police Department that might deprive individuals of their constitutional rights under state or federal law.”

The investigation is the first one undertaken since the newly enacted police accountability reform bill, which was passed after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died on May 25 in Minneapolis police custody, the Associated Press reports.

In June, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed the attorney general’s office to investigate McClain’s death.

Aurora Police Department Chief Vanessa Wilson pledged on Tuesday the department’s “full cooperation with this investigation,” in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to transparency and earning the trust of our community back.”

On Aug. 24, 2019, McClain, a massage therapist, was returning from a store where he'd purchased four cans of iced tea when he encountered the Aurora police officers. 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.

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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.

“Elijah committed no crime, yet, like many interactions between Black people and the City of Aurora, his life ended in tragedy,” the complaint alleges. “In a span of eighteen minutes, Defendants subjected Elijah to a procession of needless and brutal force techniques and unnecessary, recklessly administered medication, the combined effects of which he could not survive.”

In the lawsuit, McClain was described as a "constantly positive young man, who did his best to avoid conflict."

According to his family, he became a vegetarian because of his concern for the suffering of animals.

“He was so averse to causing harm to another living being that he would chase flies away rather than swatting them,” the lawsuit states. “Elijah used his lunch breaks during work to play his violin for animals waiting to be adopted from a local pet rescue, believing that the music eased their loneliness.”

The City Attorney could be reached for comment. A city spokesperson tells PEOPLE they are currently reviewing the lawsuit and don't have a comment at this time.

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.