The mother of a man killed at the hands of a Colorado police department exposed for its racist practices against Black people, in particular, called the recent findings by the state attorney general “bittersweet” in part because she is skeptical whether any real change will come as a result.
Sheneen McClain — whose son, Elijah McClain, 23, died days after he was racially profiled by officers with the Aurora Police Department while walking down the street, placed in an illegal chokehold and injected with a powerful sedative by paramedics — said she was cautiously optimistic that Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s investigation returned such definitive findings.
Weiser’s report about the Aurora police department was damning and specifically pointed to a pattern of racial discrimination, with Black people bearing the brunt of that racism.
“We observed statistically significant racial disparities — especially with respect to Black individuals — in nearly every important type of police contact with the community, from interactions to arrests to uses of force,” the report said in part. “These disparities persisted across income, gender and geographic boundaries. Together with the other information we reviewed, we find that Aurora Police engages in racially biased policing, treating people of color (and Black people in particular) differently from their white counterparts.”
Sheneen McClain had been saying that since Elijah died more than two years ago.
“It took my son’s murder to highlight everything that’s been wrong,” she told CBS Denver in an interview this week.
She said even in the interim since Elijah’s death and the high-profile scrutiny brought down on the police in Aurora, the department’s officers were undeterred in carrying out their racist policing. That included an instance last summer when Aurora cops incorrectly accused a Black family — with children including a 6-year-old girl — of stealing a vehicle, held them at gunpoint, handcuffed them and forced to lie face-down on the roasting concrete of a mall parking lot. It later turned out the police were looking for a motorcycle with a Montana license plate. The Black family was in an SUV with Colorado license plates that reportedly shared the same number.
It is instances like that keeping Sheneen McClain doubtful that the sweeping reforms being imposed on Aurora PD will actually change anything, if history was any indication.
“With everyone that has been highlighted in the news that had been murdered by police officers, people were still getting killed, people were still getting brutalized,” she said.
Sheneen McClain did admit there was a silver lining she was open to accepting: “The whole wide world is watching them if they mess up again,” she said of Aurora PD.
Elijah McClain’s death finally resulted in the cops and paramedics involved being criminally indicted two weeks ago.
A total of five people were charged — two police officers, one former police officer and two paramedics — each with one count of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for the death that was preceded by McClain telling police that he couldn’t breathe because of the chokehold in which he was placed.
The manslaughter indictments for what advocates have called “murder” came more than one year after the Aurora City Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution calling for an independent investigation following allegations of misconduct by officers with the Aurora Police Department and the responding paramedics.
A total of 32 counts were handed down by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who was appointed a special prosecutor in the case.
McClain’s father told NBC News he was “thankful” that McClain’s killers will finally be held accountable.”
The two police officers indicted were identified as Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema. Jason Rosenblatt, the former officer who was also indicted, was fired after his mocking response to a photo text message in which three Aurora police officers posed for a photo reenacting the carotid restraint used on McClain. Those three officers were fired, too.
The paramedics charged are named Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec.
Mari Newman, a lawyer who represents McClain’s father, said the charges should put police on notice.
“This indictment serves as a powerful reminder to all members of law enforcement that no one is above the law,” Newman said in a statement.
Sheneen McClain is taking a wait-and-see approach.