It’s been nearly a year and a half since the death of Elijah McClain. The 23-year-old massage therapist died in August 2019 after a violent encounter with the police in Aurora, Colorado. A 157-page report from an independent investigation commission was released on Monday. It includes two different accounts of what happened the day McClain died, while faulting the officers who arrested him and the department’s overall lack of accountability.
What Happened to Elijah McClain?
Records show that McClain had suffered a heart attack just days before his encounter with the police in Aurora, CO. Someone called 9-1-1 on August 24th, 2019, saying that someone in the area looked “sketchy”. They also claimed that McClain was wearing a ski mask and waving his arms around.
Three police officers quickly responded to the call. The report includes one of the officer’s statements at the time, who described the encounter as a “violent struggle.”
However, body camera footage from that night tells a different story.
“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,” the report found.
At one point, McClain can be heard saying, “Forgive me…you all are phenomenal, you are beautiful.” He added, “I’m an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”
Yet, the officers didn’t let up.
The report, which was commissioned by the city of Aurora, clearly states that the cops had no legal basis to stop, frisk, or use a chokehold on McClain, who seems to have been just minding his own business at the time of the arrest. He was never suspected of a crime.
Paramedics arrived on the scene and gave McClain a syringe full of ketamine, an anesthetic, which put him into cardiac arrest. He was rushed to a hospital where he later died after being taken off life support.
Elijah’s mother Sheeneen said after the release of the report:
“Aurora is responsible for Elijah’s tragic death by virtue of its employees’ unlawful and unconscionable actions. At every step of the way – from their initial stop of Elijah through the involuntary injection of an extremely dangerous drug for no medical reason – Aurora officials indisputably violated Mr. McClain’s constitutional rights.”
She also points out that McClain would wear the ski mask because he was anemic and sensitive to the cold.
McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, said: “This report confirms what we have been saying from the start. The Aurora police and medics who murdered my son must be held accountable.”
How Can We Prevent This from Happening Again?
The investigators who authored the report said their main focus was to prevent incidents like this from happening again rather than assign blame.
The report says the Aurora Police Department needs to conduct several interviews with the arresting officers and paramedics to learn more about the incident. The report also recommends the department review how its officers are trained to stop, frisk, and arrest people, and urges the city to consider overhauling how it reviews incidents.
It adds: “The speed at which these officers acted to take Mr. McClain into custody, their apparent failure to assess whether there was reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed, and the unity with which the three officers acted suggest several potential training or supervision weaknesses.”
The report also calls the original police probe following the incident “flawed.” The Attorney’s Office used the results of this “flawed” investigation to clear the arresting officers of all charges. To this day, none of the arresting officers have lost their jobs and no subsequent charges have been filed.
The report criticizes the way the officers and paramedics responded to the scene, including the fact that the arresting officers used force on McClain “within seconds of exiting their cars”, and that they sustained that force “over an extended time period, including two attempted carotid holds.”
Furthermore, the report found that the paramedics who administered ketamine did so ‘without conducting anything more than a brief visual observation’, after wasting “almost seven minutes after arriving to interact with Mr. McClain.”
The report notes that EMS’ “first contact was to administer the sedative ketamine”.
In conclusion, bias may have had a role to play. The report added, “research indicates that factors such as increased perception of threat, perception of extraordinary strength, perception of higher pain tolerance, and misconceptions of age and size can be indicative of bias.”
Our heart goes out to the McClain family.