Aurora cops fired for photographs taken on the Elijah McClain Memorial lose enchantment to the Re-Entry Division – The Denver Publish
Three former Aurora police officers failed to convince the city’s civil service commission to re-enter the department after posing for smiling pictures at the Elijah McClain Memorial and reenacting a chokehold that was in his last conscious moments at McClain had been used to laughing at the selfies.
The officers ‘behavior was inappropriate, persistent, and caused catastrophic damage to the department’s already strained relationship with marginalized communities, as well as direct pain to McClain’s family, the Aurora Public Service Commission stated in its letters of its decision to uphold the officers’ layoffs.
The photos became known to department heads and the general public in late June as protests continued against racist policing and police killing of unarmed blacks in Denver, Aurora and across the country.
“These events did not take place in a historic vacuum,” wrote members of the Public Service Commission in their results released on Tuesday. “Given the strained racial relations in Aurora following Elijah McClain’s death … and the Black Lives Matter movement, the disclosure of the text photo and the thoughtless reaction of Officer (Jason) Rosenblatt caused extraordinary harm.”
Two of the officers, Erica Marrero and Kyle Dittrich, posed for photos on October 20, 2019 when she and another officer, Jaron Jones, mimicked a stranglehold used on McClain before he died in Aurora police custody. Officers on duty at the time took the photos near where other Aurora officers forcibly arrested and suffocated McClain about two months earlier, and a paramedic injected ketamine into the 23-year-old.
McClain, who had committed no crime, died on August 30, 2019 after falling into a coma and being declared insane.
Dittrich then sent the photos to Rosenblatt, one of the officers who arrested McClain the night he died. Rosenblatt replied to the text with “Ha ha”.
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson fired all three officers in July. Jones resigned from the department before he could be released and was therefore unable to appeal.
“Aurora officers are expected to serve our community with dignity, respect and a sense of humanity,” Wilson said in a statement Tuesday. “I am pleased with the decision by the Public Service Commission to maintain my discipline towards Mr Dittrich, Mrs Marrero and Mr Rosenblatt.”
Rosenblatt, Dittrich, and Marrero quickly appealed their dismissals to the Aurora Civil Service Commission, which has held hearings for officers in recent weeks. The hearings were not open to the public. At the hearings, the three officers apologized for their actions but did not deny the facts, arguing that the Commission found the punishment too harsh and that the investigative and disciplinary process was too premature.
Wilson became aware of the photos and Rosenblatt’s response on June 25 after an official heard about the photos following the Commission’s findings. The chief immediately opened an investigation and eight days later dismissed all three officers. Despite the unusually quick disciplinary process, the Commission found that there were no factual errors that would undermine its findings.
Marrero and Dittrich told the commission that they took the photos to cheer up a friend of theirs, Nathan Woodyard, who was one of the officers who forcibly arrested McClain. Woodyard did not respond to the text, but later told Dittrich that the photos were inappropriate according to the public service commission.
“The commission just doesn’t understand how a photo with a chokehold on the Elijah McClain memorial could potentially help Officer Woodyard,” the decision said.
When Rosenblatt received the SMS photos, he didn’t even know who sent them but assumed it was someone within the department, he told the commission. He said he replied with a laugh so as not to encourage the conversation, but the commission said it didn’t make sense.
“The likely interpretation of someone who saw the photo and the response from Officer Rosenblatt” Ha ha “was that Officer Rosenblatt laughed at Elijah McClain’s death,” the commission wrote.
Rosenblatt is the only police officer involved in McClain’s death and subject to discipline. The other two officers, Randy Roedema and Woodyard, who arrested McClain are still on duty.
Three inquiries into McClain’s death are ongoing – one at each level of government. A city-led investigation into the role of police and paramedics in McClain’s death is expected to be released later this month.