An independent investigation into the deadly 2019 arrest of 23-year-old Elijah McClain in Aurora, Colo., has found that police used force on the young man with no justification and that paramedics who later came to the scene dosed him with ketamine based on an “inflated assessment of his size.”
The investigation was commissioned by the city of Aurora and its findings were released on Monday, reports 9News.
McClain, who was a massage therapist and a self-taught violin player, was walking from a convenience store in August 2019 when police—responding to a 911 call that there was someone looking “sketchy”—pinned him to the ground and put him into a chokehold. According to a civil complaint filed by his family, the 140 pound McClain was captured on body camera footage at one point asking the cops, “Why are you attacking me?” Medics who later arrived on the scene injected him with 500 milligrams of ketamine, after which McClain went into cardiac arrest and was put on life support before dying in hospital.
Though the independent report into the disturbing series of events concludes with only recommendations for policy review at the department level, its findings paint a damning picture on the behavior of the officers and the paramedics who took McClain into custody.
The report points out that neither the 911 caller who helped set the events in motion nor the officers who responded to it, “articulated a crime that they thought Mr. McClain had committed, was committing or was about to commit.”
Despite this, and McClain telling the officers his name and that he was just going home, the cops proceeded to put him into a chokehold—actions which the investigation found were not justified.
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“Based on the record available to the panel, we were not able to identify sufficient evidence that Mr. McClain was armed and dangerous in order to justify a pat-down search,” the report said. “The panel also notes that one officer’s explanation that that Aurora officers are trained to ‘take action before it escalates’ does not meet the constitutional requirement of reasonable suspicion to conduct (a stop or frisk).”
The 5-foot-7, 140-pound McClain was given ketamine that would have been proper for a man weighing 190 pounds, according to the panel’s findings.
“Aurora Fire appears to have accepted the officers’ impression that Mr. McClain had excited delirium without corroborating that impression through meaningful observations or diagnostic examination of Mr. McClain,” the report said.
“In addition, EMS administered a ketamine dosage based on a grossly inaccurate and inflated estimate of Mr. McClain’s size. Higher doses can carry a higher risk of sedation complications, for which this team was clearly not prepared.”
Essentially, cops got a vague 911 call, subsequently jumped on and choked out a young, unarmed Black man in response, and then medics arrived on the scene and injected that young man with 500 milligrams of ketamine—apparently on the assumption that he was larger than life and without even examining him.
“Research indicates that factors such as increased perception of threat, perception of extraordinary strength, perception of higher pain tolerance, and misperceptions of age and size can be indicative of bias,” the investigation added of its findings.
But that’s not all. According to 9News, the report also casts serious doubt on the validity of the criminal investigation into McClain’s death that was conducted by—who else?—the Aurora Police Department. Last year, a local district attorney said the investigation found no evidence that officers who brutalized McClain had broken the law.
“Interviews conducted by Major Crime investigators failed to ask basic, critical questions about the justification for the use of force necessary for any prosecutor to make a determination about whether the use of force was legally justified,” the report says. “Instead, the questions frequently appeared designed to elicit specific exonerating ‘magic language’ found in court rulings.”
In addition, the report Major Crime presented to the district attorney and relied upon by the Force Review Board “failed to present a neutral, objective version of the facts and seemingly ignored contrary evidence,” according to the report.
The report ends by recommending the police department and EMS review their policy, training and supervision practices—basically meaning the findings do not equate to serious consequences for those it finds at fault. At least for now.
Colorado State Attorney Phil Weiser is currently re-examining the McClain case and last month opened a grand jury into the investigation.
And the federal lawsuit the McClain family has filed against the city of Aurora, several police officers, a paramedic and the director of the Aurora Fire Rescue, is ongoing.
McClain’s mother, Sheeneen McClain, said in a statement Monday that the findings of the city-commissioned investigation are “based on evidence that Aurora has had in its possession all along.”
“Aurora is responsible for Elijah’s tragic death by virtue of its employees’ unlawful and unconscionable actions,” she said. “Yet, at every stage, Aurora has defended its officials for their blatantly unlawful actions and refused to discipline anyone involved in Elijah’s death.”
The officers who first approached McClain—Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema—remain with the Aurora Police Department.
Aurora City Council has called a meeting this evening to discuss the investigation’s findings.