Denver, CO – The governor of Colorado on Thursday appointed a special prosecutor to re-open the investigation into the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain in the custody of the Aurora police despite the fact the prosecutor found no basis to charge them.
“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,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
Polis directed Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser by executive order to investigate McClain’s death in custody and prosecute those involved if he determined it was warranted.
“As a father, my heart breaks for the McClain family,” the governor said. “All Coloradans should be safe walking home from the convenience store, or just being in their own neighborhoods listening to headphones. Unfortunately, I know that is not how many people – especially young people of color – feel in our state today, because I’ve heard it from them directly.”
“We need to do a better job, and at a bare minimum they deserve a thorough review of the case,” Polis added.
The incident occurred on Aug. 24, 2019 when police responded to a call about a suspicious person wearing a mask and waving their arms on Billings Street, the Denver Post reported.
When police arrived on the scene, the suspect – later identified as McClain – refused police commands to stop so they could talk to him.
Police tried to detain McClain and he resisted arrest, and so they used a takedown move and pinned the 140-pound man to the ground.
“Let go of me. I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking,” McClain told the officers in bodycam video, the Associated Press reported.
Officers used a “carotid control hold” on McClain, according to the Denver Post.
The suspect told police he couldn’t breathe and vomited several times, but he also continued to resist arrest.
Officials said one of the officers requested that paramedics who arrived on the scene dispense a sedative to the still-resisting suspect, KMGH reported.
Paramedics gave McClain a 500 milligram dose of ketamine to calm him down.
However, Aurora police said bodycam video proved it wasn’t the officers’ idea to sedate McClain, KMGH reported.
He suffered cardiac arrest in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and never regained consciousness, the Associated Press reported.
McClain died on Aug. 30, 2019, three days after he was taken off life support.
The Aurora Police Department investigated and the district attorney for the 17th Judicial District determined there was no criminal wrongdoing by the officers involved, the Denver Post reported.
After riots broke out across the country in the wake of 46-year-old George Floyd’s death in custody of the Minneapolis police, activists in Colorado turned McClain’s name into a rallying cry for police brutality in their own state.
Dave Young, the district attorney for the 17th Judicial District in Adams and Broomfield Counties, defended his decision not to charge the officers involved, the Denver Post reported.
The district attorney said it was his job to look at the police department’s investigation and the coroner’s report to see if the evidence supported the filing of criminal charges, the Denver Post reported.
“That review is limited to a determination of whether the evidence supports the filing of a criminal charge under Colorado law,” Young said. “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.”
“The forensic evidence revealed that the cause of death was undetermined,” he wrote in his statement.
“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,” the district attorney wrote. “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.”
The district attorney also said he wasn’t able to “disprove the officers’ reasonable belief in the necessity to use force” with the suspect.
“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 the incident,” Young concluded.
“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, but, rather, on the evidence revealed from the investigation and applicable Colorado law,” he finished his statement.
The police department’s investigation of the incident determined the officers “had a lawful reason to contact Mr. McClain” and that the use-of-force applied had been “within policy and consistent with training,” the Denver Post reported.
The carotid hold used on McClain has since been banned by Aurora police.