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On April 20, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of accidental second degree murder and two other cases related to the May 2020 murder of George Floyd – an incident captured in a horrific video that The country sparked weeks of protests against Black Lives Matter, including in Denver.
Following the ruling, numerous prominent Coloradans released statements, including Governor Jared Polis, Mayor Michael Hancock, and Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen. One of the most noticeable attitudes came from Attorney Mari Newman, speaking on behalf of Elijah McClain, an innocent, unarmed 23-year-old black man who died in August 2019 after describing herself as a lengthy and agonizing interaction with members of the Aurora Police Station. In her remarks, Newman essentially accused Aurora of shirking responsibility for a crime equal to Chauvins’ by protecting the officers whose actions led to McClain’s death.
“We are delighted to see that Derek Chauvin has been prosecuted for the murder of George Floyd,” Newman said, pointing out that “any other outcome would have been a startling mistake in a murder the whole world is on video has witnessed. ” And then she lowered the boom.
“Unfortunately, Colorado prosecutors have not shown the same commitment to hold officers accountable for the murder of civilians,” she said. “So far we have not seen any charges against those who murdered Elijah McClain, an innocent young black man who went home and minded his own business. And unlike the City of Minneapolis – which recognized its own mistakes by killing those Officials fired George Floyd, who is providing relief to Mr. Floyd’s family – Aurora, Colorado -, continues to deny responsibility for killing Elijah McClain, refuses to fire all officials who killed Elijah McClain and has not intervened to help to stop the outrageous use of force against him. and gave no cure to Elijah’s family. “
In a response to Westword, Aurora City manager Jim Twombly declined to address Newman’s allegations directly, choosing instead to portray the McClain tragedy as a kind of learning opportunity.
The chauvinist ruling “is just one step toward healing in our country and in our communities. We respect the judicial process and the nation’s collective demands for public safety reforms,” Twombly said. “The tragic death of Mr Floyd in 2020 further underscored why Aurora began reviewing its public safety practices in 2019 following the death of Elijah McClain. We recognize that much remains to be done. We continue to stop community feedback as we review the results from other external, independent recommendations that we have already received or will receive in the coming weeks and months. “
Beyond the city of Aurora, the lawsuit Newman filed last August on behalf of McClain’s estate lists fifteen individual defendants: Aurora officers Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema, Jason Rosenblatt, Matthew Green, Alicia Ward, Kyle Dittrich, Erica Marrero and James Root, Jordan Mullins-Orcutt and Darren Dunson; Sergeants Dale Leonard and Rachel Nunez; Lieutenant Peter Cichuniec; Paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Dr. Eric Hill. But none of them have become nearly as well known as Chauvin – partly because there is no video that is as shocking as the Floyd footage, for almost as controversial reasons.
As Newman told us back in 2019, the body-worn cameras of the three officers who dealt with McClain allegedly all came off during their actions, resulting in images of the ground rather than what they did to him. The sound came through loud and clear, however, and among McClain’s words was a sentence that was also uttered before Floyd died under Chauvin’s knee: “I can’t breathe!” The lack of images, however, resulted in a much muted public response.
Here is a compendium of McClain footage – worth more than three hours – released by the Aurora Police Department.
Nearly nine months after McClain’s death, his case finally caught national attention during last summer’s protests, but Aurora’s later reactions have been mixed. For example, a week before the October 2020 unveiling of “A New Way”, which was characterized as a reform effort for the APD, the city argued in court documents that officials had done nothing wrong with the way they treated McClain.
A damning study by Aurora City Council published in February found the opposite. State and federal investigations are pending.
Meanwhile, LaWayne Mosley, McClain’s father, thanked Chauvin for the results. “Nothing will bring George Floyd back like nothing will bring Elijah back,” he said. “But I’m happy for George Floyd’s family that the officials who killed him have been brought to justice.”
Click here for the estate of Elijah McClain against The City of Aurora et al. To read.
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Michael Roberts has been writing for Westword since October 1990 and has worked as a music editor and media columnist. It currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.