Aurora, CO – The Aurora Civil Service Commission on Tuesday upheld the terminations of three police officers for taking offensive selfies at a memorial for Elijah McClain.
“I fully supported [Aurora Police] Chief Wilson’s firing of Officers Dittrich, Marrero, and Rosenblatt, and am encouraged that the Civil Service Commission agreed and upheld her decision,” Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said in a statement, KDVR reported.
The incident the left McClain dead began on August 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.
While medics were transporting McClain, he went into cardiac arrest. McClain died three days later.
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.
But after the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police, riots erupted in Aurora as protesters demanded the officers involved in McClain’s case be charged.
In late June, Colorado Governor Jared 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.
Then pictures became public of several Aurora police officers smiling for the camera at the site of of the fight with McClain. Those photos outraged the community even more, The New York Times reported.
Chief Wilson fired Aurora Police Officers Erica Marrero, Kyle Dittrich, and Jason Rosenblatt for conduct unbecoming.
Aurora Police Officer Jaron Jones had already resigned on June 30, The New York Times reported.
“While the allegations of this internal affairs case are not criminal, it is a crime against humanity and decency,” Chief Wilson said at a press conference when she announced their terminations. “To even think about doing such a thing is beyond comprehension and it’s reprehensible. It shows a lack of morals, values and integrity, and a judgment that I can no longer trust to allow them to wear this badge.”
Former Officers Marrero, Dittrich, and Jones allegedly took grinning selfies at McClain’s memorial shortly after his death.
One of the pictures featured Officer Dittrich with a big smile as Officer Jones wrapped his arm around his neck with Officer Marrero smiling behind them, The New York Times reported.
The pictures were sent to Officer Rosenblatt, who was one of three officers who was involved with the arrest of McClain.
Chief Wilson said then-Officer Rosenblatt replied back “haha” when he received the pictures, The New York Times reported.
Another officer involved in McClain’s arrest, Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard, also received the pictures but deleted them immediately so he wasn’t fired, the Sentinel reported.
The commission upheld the chief’s decisions to the fire all of the officers, saying they had all used bad judgment, KDVR reported.
“Upon receiving the photo Officer Rosenblatt had several options available to him much more appropriate and less risky than responding, ‘Ha ha,’” the commission wrote in their report. “He could have deleted the text. He could have ignored the text and sent no response. He could have reported the text to his superiors. He could have expressly told the sender he strongly disapproved of the text and not to send him anymore.”
“At a minimum, he could have inquired as to who sent him the photo,” the report’s findings continued. “Any of those responses required little thought or effort by Officer Rosenblatt and would have avoided adverse consequences for him. Instead, Officer Rosenblatt made the conscious decision to respond to the unknown sender in a manner that, if read by the public would portray Officer Rosenblatt, his fellow officers and the Aurora Police Department in a deplorable light.”
The commissioners produced an even more critical report of their findings for Officers Marrero and Dittrich that said they did “catastrophic harm” to the Aurora Police Department and pointed out that the officers had posed for the pictures just a month after the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police, KDRV reported.
“Taking the photos, and then disseminating them to others with no control over who [sic] they might ultimately view them, while perhaps not malicious, demonstrated a severe lapse of judgment by Officers Marrero and Dittrich,” the Aurora Civil Service Commission wrote.
“The revelation of their misconduct one month after George Floyd’s death resulted in catastrophic harm to the Department’s relationship with the community, not to mention harm to fellow officers and pain to the McClain family,” the commissioners added.
KDVR investigated and found that both Officers Marrero and Dittrich had been on the scene of the altercation that left McClain dead in a support capacity to the officers involved.
Chief Wilson released a statement that said she was happy about the commissioner’s decision and said it got the police department back on the right path to rebuilding trust in the community.