$15M Settlement in Wrongful Death of Elijah McClain, Black Man Who Died After Chokehold by Colo. Cops

Elijah McClain, 23, an anemic who wore a ski mask to stay warm on a walk to the store, was stopped in Aurora, Colo., by police after a 911 caller described him as "sketchy"

elijah mcclain
Elijah McClain. Photo: Family Photo

A Colorado city will pay $15 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit over the wrongful death of Elijah McClain, a Black man who died in 2019 after he was detained and placed in a chokehold by police, then given a sedative that led to his cardiac arrest.

"There is no amount of money in the world that will make up for losing my son, but hopefully this sends a message to police everywhere that there are consequences for their actions," McClain's biological father, LaWayne Mosley, said in a statement shared with PEOPLE. "I hope Elijah's legacy is that police will think twice before killing another innocent person."

The settlement, announced Friday by Mosley and his attorney, Mari Newman, ends a lawsuit filed in August 2020 by Mosley and McClain's mother, Sheneen McClain, against the city of Aurora, 12 of its police officers, two fire department paramedics and the fire department's medical director.

The City of Aurora also confirmed a settlement, but not the amount, and said it was reached "in principle" last summer but still required family members to agree to an allocation before the city would confirm the terms, reports CBS Denver.

The case led to criminal charges including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide against three police officers and two paramedics, announced in September by the Colorado Attorney General's Office, that are pending. Those charges have yet to be presented in court, reports The New York Times.

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McClain, 23, was returning from a store where he'd purchased four cans of iced tea when he encountered police officers at 10:43 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2019.

According to a 157-page independent report commissioned by the city after the incident — which sent thousands of people into the streets to demand justice — a passerby who phoned 911 had reported a "sketchy" person in a ski mask waving his arms but without any apparent weapon.

As an anemic, McClain often wore a ski mask, as his chronic condition usually made his face feel colder when he went on walks, according to his family. Authorities said a struggle ensued after two officers approached and tried to detain the unarmed McClain, placing him in a chokehold and pinning him to the ground for 15 minutes.

While pinned, McClain told officers he was having difficulty breathing and started vomiting, according to the report. Paramedics were summoned and, after apparently accepting "the officers' impression that Mr. McClain had excited delirium without corroborating that impression through meaningful observation or diagnostic examination," according to the review, they administered the sedative ketamine.

But the report says a fire department lieutenant misjudged McClain's 140-pound weight, injecting enough of the sedative for a 190-pound person.

McClain suffered a heart attack and fell into a coma on the way to the hospital. He was removed from life support and died on Aug. 30, 2019.

Police were wrong to stop McClain without justification and place him in a chokehold, which preceded his injection with the sedative, and those combined actions by police and paramedics ultimately led to the his cardiac arrest and death, the city's review concluded.

The Aurora police administration initially defended the officers' actions by pointing out that McClain was wearing a mask. In November 2019, the Adams County district attorney announced, "The evidence does not support the filing of any state criminal charges against the involved officers for the unfortunate and tragic death of Mr. McClain."

But following an outcry on social media, both the City of Aurora and the state Attorney General's Office announced investigations. The incident also garnered a national audience as it coincided with the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta that were then fueling mass protests across the country over excessive use of police force against Black people.

The Aurora City Council commissioned the independent review in July 2020, a month after authorities there announced a ban on the use of chokeholds by its officers. Among its findings, the report concluded that detectives who were assigned to scrutinize the incident in its aftermath "failed to meaningfully investigate" it.

"The body worn camera audio, limited video, and Major Crimes' interviews with the officers tell two contrasting stories," the report states. "The officers' statements on the scene and in subsequent recorded interviews suggest a violent and relentless struggle. The limited video, and the audio from the body worn cameras, reveal Mr. McClain surrounded by officers, all larger than he, crying out in pain, apologizing, explaining himself, and pleading with the officers."

"It is hard to imagine any other persons involved in a fatal incident being interviewed as these officers were," the report states.

In announcing the settlement, Newman, the attorney for McClain's father, said in a statement: "In the two years since we began work on this lawsuit, there has been a revolution in Colorado's — and the country's — acknowledgement of the scourge of racist police brutality."

"Thousands have chanted Elijah's name in the streets of Colorado and the nation," she continued. "Those voices propelled Colorado to pass a law imposing unprecedented accountability for law enforcement. That accountability led to the criminal indictment of the officers and medics who murdered Elijah, and a consent decree to reform a broken police department."

"Now, Aurora's acknowledgment of the wrong it committed, through this settlement, will hopefully bring some measure of peace and healing to Elijah's family and the millions of people across the nation who have demanded justice for Elijah McClain," Newman said.

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