On Monday, the Aurora City Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution calling for an independent investigation into Elijah McClain‘s death. The investigation will be led by Jonathan Smith of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, according to CBSDenver.
From 2010 to 2015, Smith assisted with investigations of civil rights violations by law enforcement for the United States Department of Justice. Smith also assisted with the investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department after the death of Michael Brown.
A three-member team will lead the investigation into McClain’s death along with at least three additional consultants. Council members said they are searching for panelists with backgrounds in criminal justice, medicine and civil rights.
McClain was stopped on August 24, 2019, by cops who were responding to a report of a “suspicious” person in Aurora, Colorado. According to The Gazette, McClain was on his way home from a gas station where he purchased four cans of Brisk tea. Eventually, the confrontation between the police and McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, escalated and cops put him in a chokehold. He was also forced to the ground for 15 minutes, and he eventually started vomiting and saying that he couldn’t breathe.
“There was a physical struggle,” former APD Chief Nick Metz said back in October. “When (police) saw (McClain), they told him to stop. He wouldn’t stop. Again, he was wearing a ski mask, it’s 10:30 p.m. at night in a residential area, so obviously that creates some concern.”
However, according to Elijah’s family, he was anemic and he useably wore a ski mask to keep his face warm while he was outside walking. Metz went on to say that McClain was in an “agitated mental state,” which caused the cops to request backup from Aurora Fire paramedics, who injected McClain with sedative ketamine to respond to his reported anxiety. While in the ambulance vehicle to the hospital, McClain went into cardiac arrest and he eventually died at the hospital on August 30 after being taken off life support.
By June 2020, Aurora eventually terminated its contract with the attorney selected to helm the McClain death investigation after members of the Aurora City Council voiced their concerns over his neutrality.
The third-party investigation led by Smith will not bring criminal charges. However, the team will submit a written report to the city council with policy recommendations for the police, fire and EMT departments. The investigation will go over policies, including calls for service, calls for medical assistance, police contact with individuals, use of force, ketamine use, and administrative incident reviews.
Along with the independent investigation, Governor Jared Polis has appointed the Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser as a Special Prosecutor to review the case. The Department of Justice is also reviewing the case for a potential civil rights investigation.
The three police officers involved in McClain’s death have not been charged. They were removed from patrol duty back in June.
One of the cops, Jason Rosenblatt, was fired after his response to a photo text message, in which three APD officers posed for a photo reenacting the carotid restraint used on McClain. All three fired officers have appealed their terminations.