Aurora officials discuss Elijah McClain investigation

Posted at 7:04 AM, March 3, 2021 and last updated 8:13 PM, July 19, 2023

By COLLEEN SLEVIN Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — The mayor of Aurora on Tuesday thanked a panel of experts who delivered a highly critical report on the fatal arrest of Elijah McClain as an important step in the city’s healing on Tuesday. However, a few city council members faulted the investigation commissioned by the city and defended police’s right to stop the 23-year-old Black man in what they said was a high crime area.

During a meeting to discuss the report released last month, Mayor Mike Coffman said the city needs to understand what went wrong in the arrest. McClain was stopped by police in August 2019 as he walked home from the store after a 911 caller reported that he looked suspicious because he was wearing a ski mask and had been waving his hands.

FILE – In this June 27, 2020, file photo, demonstrators carry a giant placard during a rally and march over the death of Elijah McClain outside the police department in Aurora, Colo.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

“For us to heal we have to make reforms,” said Coffman.

Investigator Jonathan Smith told city councilors that officers’ body camera video did not show any reasonable suspicion that McClain was committing or about to commit a crime, which would have legally allowed them to stop him and use force against him.

While council member Marsha Berzins said the area where McClain was stopped had been a high crime area for years with shootings and drug activity, Smith said the area was not ranked as one according to statistics provided to the panel by the city. Berzins noted that police asked him to stop three times— which the report said happened over eight seconds — and that McClain appeared suspicious because of his mask and the behavior reported by the 911 caller.

“They didn’t know he was a kind soul,” she said.

McClain’s family has said he wore the ski mask because he had a blood condition that caused him to get cold easily. The temperature was in the 60s when McClain was stopped and officers only saw him walking down the street, not waving his arms, Smith said.

He said being in an area that does have a high crime rate does not give police the right to stop someone and neither does wearing a mask or heavy clothing.

“You need more than that,” Smith said.

Police put McClain in a neckhold that stops the flow of blood to the brain, rendering him temporarily unconscious, and paramedics injected him with 500 milligrams of ketamine as a sedative. He suffered cardiac arrest and later was taken off life support.

His death drew renewed attention last year amid the national reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice and prompted several investigations, including a probe into possible criminal charges by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office that remains in progress.