The Colorado governor has reopened the investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, who died after being placed in a chokehold by cops and being sedated with ketamine.
Governor Jared Polis announced Thursday he has ordered prosecutors to reopen the inquiry into the black unarmed 23-year-old’s death after being ‘moved’ by speaking to the victim’s mother.
He said the state ‘owe[s] it to his family to take this step’ and warned that charges could be brought against the officers involved – after the Colorado District Attorney earlier defended his decision not to charge the cops.
McClain died in police custody last year after buying iced tea from a convenience store and being stopped by officers who claimed he was ‘suspicious’.
Shocking bodycam footage shows the black man being tackled to the ground and put in a chokehold by cops, before he faints, vomits repeatedly, and begs ‘I can’t breathe’ before going into cardiac arrest.
His death has gained renewed attention following the Memorial Day ‘murder’ of black man George Floyd which has thrown the spotlight on several killings of black men and women in police custody across America.
The Colorado governor has reopened the investigation into the death of Elijah McClain (pictured), who died after being placed in a chokehold by cops and being sedated with ketamine last year
Polis announced the latest development in the case in a statement Thursday.
‘I was moved by speaking with Elijah’s mother and her description of her son as a responsible and curious child who became a vegetarian to be healthier, and who could inspire the darkest soul,’ Polis said.
‘His friends describe him as a gentle peacemaker who worked as a massage therapist and enjoyed playing the violin. Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern.’
The governor has signed an executive order designating Attorney General Phil Weiser as a special prosecutor to investigate the case.
‘Whenever someone dies after an encounter with law enforcement, the community deserves a thorough investigation,’ Weiser said in a statement.
‘Our investigation will be thorough, guided by the facts, and worthy of public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.’
Polis had suggested he could step in and take action over the case earlier this week.
Governor Jared Polis (left) announced Thursday that he has ordered prosecutors to reopen the inquiry into the black unarmed 23-year-old’s death after being ‘moved’ by speaking to the victim’s mother. He has signed an executive order designating Attorney General Phil Weiser (right) as a special prosecutor to investigate the case.
On Wednesday, he said on Twitter that his legal council would determine what steps state officials could take to examine McClain’s death after public outcry from his citizens.
‘Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever. A fair and objective process free from real or perceived bias for investigating officer-involved killings is critical,’ he wrote.
‘I am hearing from many Coloradans who have expressed concerns with the investigation of Elijah McClain’s death.
‘As a result, I have instructed my legal council to examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps.’
The reopening of the inquiry comes after Colorado District Attorney Dave Young, the prosecutor who determined there was no wrongdoing by Aurora Police Department officers last year, defended his decision not to bring charges against the officers.
On Wednesday, Polis said on Twitter that his legal council would determine what steps state officials could take to examine McClain’s death after public outcry from his citizens
‘Ultimately, while I may share the vast public opinion that Elijah McClain’s death could have been avoided, it is not my role to file criminal charges based on opinion,’ Young, who is with the 17th Judicial District, said in a statement, The Denver Post reports.
‘But, rather, on the evidence revealed from the investigation and applicable Colorado law.’
Young continued that his role as a district attorney is to review criminal activity investigations brought forth by law enforcement agents in his jurisdiction.
‘That review is limited to a determination of whether the evidence supports the filing of a criminal charge under Colorado law. The standard of proof for filing a criminal case is whether there is sufficient evidence to prove any violation of law beyond a reasonable doubt.’
Young added that McClain’s death was ‘tragic’ and ‘unnecessary’, but based on the evidence given could not definitively say McClain died at the direct hands of police officers.
‘The forensic evidence revealed that the cause of death was undetermined,’ Young wrote.
Aurora Police Department officers Jason Rosenblatt (left) and Randy Roedema (right) are two of the three officers who dispatched to a ‘suspicious person’ call on August 24, 2019
Officer Nathan Woodyard (pictured) also dispatched to the scene and was found to be within his jurisdiction as a police officer over the handling of McClain’s arrest
‘Specifically, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy stated that he was unable to conclude that the actions of any law enforcement officer caused Mr. McClain’s death.
‘In order to prove any form of homicide in the state of Colorado it is mandatory that the prosecution prove that the accused caused the death of the victim. For those reasons, it is my opinion that the evidence does not support the filing of homicide.’
On August 24, 2019, three officers with the Aurora Police Department were dispatched after receiving a call of a ‘suspicious person’ wearing a ski mask and dancing to music, according to The Cut.
The suspicious person, later identified as McClain, was reportedly walking back from a local convenience store after buying an iced tea.
McClain was soon stopped by Officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema, but he reportedly insisted he had done nothing wrong and kept walking.
The three older men then reportedly tackled him to the ground, with one man putting McClain in a chokehold before paramedics later injected with a dosage of ketamine to sedate him.
During this time, McClain reportedly briefly fainted, vomited repeatedly, said ‘I can’t breathe’ and cried before going into cardiac arrest.
In August 2019, 23-year-old Elijah McClain died following a confrontation with the police in the suburban Denver area after he suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital
He was later declared brain dead and placed on life support until he died on August 30, 2019.
An initial autopsy determined McClain’s cause of death was ‘undetermined,’ but reportedly listed other contributing factors like intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery.
All three officers were cleared of any criminal wrongdoings or protocol breaches by a review board in February.
Young admitted that the three officers ‘no doubt used force in this incident,’ but ‘based on the evidence and the law applicable at the time of Mr. McClain’s death, the prosecution cannot disprove the officers’ reasonable belief in the necessity to use force.’
Young added: ‘Although I may not agree with the officers’ actions in this incident, the law requires me to determine if the force used was not justified beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.
‘Based on the facts and evidence of this investigation, I cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers involved in this incident were not justified in their actions based on what they knew at the time of this incident.’
A petition shared to Change.org in early June that called for a re-examination into McClain has amassed more than 2.7million signatures out of a total goal of three million.
‘Sign this petition to bring justice for Elijah. Demand these officers are taken off duty, and that a more in-depth investigation is held,’ the petition reads.
McClain’s family has also called for another in-depth independent investigation into Officers Woodyard, Rosenblatt and Roedema’s conduct over allegations of excessive force.
Pictured (left to right): Aurora Police Department officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema are at the center of revitalized calls to investigate the death of Elijah McClain
McClain (pictured) was in a Colorado hospital for four days, during which time he was put on life support and declared brain dead
‘I’m surprised how long it has taken for the world to take notice of this case,’ McClain family attorney Mari Newman told CBS Denver.
Newman suggested that McClain’s case is finally receiving national attention after Floyd’s death sparked a nationwide discourse on racism in America.
‘It is very disappointing that it took the murder of somebody across the country for people here in Colorado to finally take notice. But, it is happening.’
She added that McClain was an ‘angel’ and that the public can see through the department’s attempts to avoid accountability.
‘He was an angel among humans. He would go to play his violin on his lunch hour to animals who were waiting to be adopted so they wouldn’t be lonely,’ she said.
‘This is not a person who should ever have been contacted by law enforcement, much less murdered in cold blood as he was.
‘The public sees through that dishonesty, sees through that effort to avoid accountability, and is now standing up to say Aurora needs to stand up and do what is right.’
Both Gov. Polis (left) and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman (right) have recently joined those calling for an independent investigation into the fatal incident
Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman had also called for an independent investigation into the fatal incident, saying he would ask the city council to vote for an independent investigation on July 6.
Coffman said it was ‘imperative we quickly and urgently move forward with this investigation so we can provide answers to our community.’
‘We need to bring closure to this tragic incident by making sure every aspect of it is thoroughly investigated,’ he said.
The City of Aurora initially proposed an independent investigation, but discovered after the fact that the first man chosen to spearhead the probe was a former officer.
Officials ended that effort and asked the city manager to nominate a different investigator.
Aurora Public Safety policy committee Curtis Gardner announced on Wednesday that the committee forwarded a letter to the City Manager stating that the previous pick didn’t meet their standards of ‘neutrality.’
‘While he is certainly an accomplished attorney after a long career in law enforcement, we didn’t feel that his review would meet what the community wanted,’ the letter read.
‘Over the last several days, we have received thousands of contacts from all over the country – phone calls, text messages, emails and social media tags. The community has made clear they support our call for an independent investigation.’
Pictured: A letter from Aurora Public Safety policy committee asked that the city manager nominate someone to lead the probe
According to the Sentinel Colorado, McClain was a massage therapist who was described by loved ones and clients as ‘gentle.’
‘I don’t even think he would set a mouse trap if there was a rodent problem,’ his friend, Eric Behrens, said.
He would reportedly spend his lunch breaks playing music at local animal shelters because he believed it would help soothe their anxiety.
Elijah McClain’s last words
‘I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here… My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert.
‘I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun.
‘I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me?
‘I don’t even kill flies. I don’t eat meat. But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat.
‘Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better… I will do it… I will do anything.
‘Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it. I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini.
‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt.
‘You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work.’
Source: The Courier Daily
‘He had a child-like spirit… He lived in his own little world. He was never into, like, fitting in. He just was who he was,’ said April Young, one of McClain’s clients.
Marna Arnett, a friend and former client, added that McClain was the ‘sweetest, purest person I have ever met.’
‘He was definitely a light in a whole lot of darkness,’ she said.
In August 2019, a person called 911 around 10:30pm to report seeing a ‘sketchy’ person walking through the neighborhood, ABC News reports.
The caller told authorities that a man, identified as McClain, ‘had a mask on’ and ‘he might be a good person or a bad person.’
His sister, Naomi McClain, later told Denver 7 that her brother would sometimes don a ski mask because he ‘had anemia and would sometimes get cold.’
Arnett added that McClain ‘would hide behind that mask.
‘It was protection for him, too. It made him more comfortable being in the outside world.’
The caller confirmed that McClain did not have any weapons on his person at the time.
When asked if anyone else was in danger, the caller responded ‘no.
Police body camera footage showed McClain listening to music as he walked home. Officers Woodyard, Rosenblatt and Roedema approached McClain in an attempt to stop him.
According to police body camera footage, one officer put his hands on McClain, saying ‘stop tensing up’ while McClain asked to be let go and explains he was on his way home.
‘You guys started to arrest me and I was stopping my music to listen,’ McClain said.
One officer said he wanted to move McClain to a nearby grassy area, which appeared to spark a struggle between the officers and McClain.
During the incident, one officer claims that McClain reached for his gun, but can later be heard on body camera footage contradicting himself.
He admitted he did not remember feeling McClain reaching for his gun.
McClain was tackled to the ground and placed in a carotid control hold, which involved an officer place an arm around a person’s neck.
This can result in restricted blow flow to the brain from the carotid arteries,’ Dave Young, the district attorney for Adams and Broomfield Counties, reportedly wrote in a letter to former Chief Nicholas Metz.
‘I was just going home,’ McClain cried out while detained and handcuffed on the ground. ‘I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting.’
McClain proceeded to vomit and plead with officers that he couldn’t breathe while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
Medics with the Aurora Fire Department reportedly claimed McClain was resistant and possibly suffered from ‘excited delirium’, so they administered ketamine to calm him down.
Paramedics with the Aurora Police Department reportedly claimed that McClain (pictured) might have been suffering from ‘excited delirium’ at the time and administered ketamine
The incident between McClain (pictured with a ski mask) and the three officers was captured on police body camera
Ketamine is often used by veterinarians and medical practitioners as an anesthetic. The coroner found that there was a ‘therapeutic level’ of ketamine inside McClain’s system.
‘Even though he was totally restrained on the ground, the Aurora paramedics injected him with a dosage of ketamine,’ said attorney Newman.
‘It was certainly not appropriate because he wasn’t acting in any out-of-control way when the ketamine was administered.’
McClain was placed into an ambulance, but suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital.
Authorities said he was briefly responsive, but died four days later.
Newman said McClain’s death is part of a nationwide reckoning over how people view police-involved deaths and racism.
‘A lot of the time people like to reassure themselves that the only people who get killed by law enforcement are people who were doing something wrong…He wasn’t doing anything wrong.’
McClain is one of several deaths of Black Americans while interacting with law enforcement.
George Floyd, 46, died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
During this time, Floyd, a father-of-five, could be heard pleading ‘I can’t breathe’ before he became unresponsive and later died.
Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot dead inside her home in Louisville, Kentucky, by a group of plainclothes officers using a ‘no knock’ warrant.
Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was shot eight times and died on March 13.
Rayshard Brooks, 27, was shot twice in the back during an confrontation with two officers outside a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 12.
Brooks was reportedly intoxicated and fell asleep inside his vehicle, inadvertently blocking the drive thru line. An autopsy ruled Brooks’ death a homicide.