Aurora Police followed the department’s protocol after Elijah McClain died in custody in August 2019. The boss promised transparency and called the Denver and Aurora detectives team who are normally used to investigate police shootings. The detectives conducted an investigation and turned it over to the prosecutor.
“There was more than just the Aurora Police Department’s eyes on this investigation,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said last week.
However, Aurora police officers ‘initial criminal investigations into police officers’ treatment of McClain were deeply flawed and “expanded the record to exonerate the officers,” an external review of the case found.
The results of the report, released last week, have raised questions about whether the system used by Colorado law enforcement to investigate police shootings and other murders by officials is effective in preventing bias and corruption.
Unlike many other authorities on the Front Range, the Denver and Aurora Police Department can investigate serious injuries and murders by their own officers. Your arrangement investigating McClain’s death is unusual in a state where the law requires investigations by teams with multiple jurisdictions.
In many countries, the law has been interpreted to mean that the agency concerned should have little or no influence over it, and the legislature who pushed the law believes the Aurora-Denver agreement is not within the meaning of the law.
“There was only one McClain report, but we know (the Aurora Police Department) was involved in other serious, high-profile incidents,” said Nick Mitchell, a former independent observer who ran the police and sheriff’s departments from 2012 to January overseen by Denver 4. “The question arises, how well accountability systems work.”
It is unclear what impact the results of the report will have on the Aurora Police Department. Wilson wouldn’t say whether the detectives who conducted the investigation are being disciplined or whether there is a fuller review of the previous investigations into deadly violence and police shots that they conducted.
She said she will work with the two Aurora prosecutors to ensure similar issues do not arise in future deadly violence investigations.
“Whether that means we step down and give the leadership to another agency or let the prosecutors investigate themselves,” she said. “There have to be a lot more talks.”
Rachel Woolf, Special at the Denver Post
Then-interim Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson speaks during a press conference at the Aurora Municipal Center on Monday, December 30, 2019.
Out of the norm
Colorado lawmakers passed law in 2015 requiring all law enforcement agencies, sheriff’s offices, and prosecutors to team up with multiple agencies to investigate both fatal and non-fatal police shootings.
“In addition, the involvement of outside parties in an investigation promotes and encourages a level of transparency and objectivity that gives greater credibility to the end result,” said the undersigned plot specified. “Finally, the involvement of outside agencies removes any real or perceived prejudice, which in turn increases public confidence in the results of such research.”
Law enforcement agencies in Colorado have implemented this law differently. Investigative teams have been formed from multiple agencies in most jurisdictions, and in many major jurisdictions – such as Boulder, Larimer, Weld, Jefferson, and Adams counties – officials from the agency under investigation are prohibited from participating in the process beyond what is required by law goes out.
The 18th judicial district, which includes Arapahoe, Douglas, Lincoln, and Elbert counties, does not allow the lead investigator to be from the investigated agency and only allows agency personnel to work on the investigation at all, if not enough People are present from other employers.
However, Denver and Aurora are not part of a multi-agency team, but rather work exclusively with prosecutors to investigate the police shootings. The lead investigator of the case may be from the agency involved in the shooting or use of force, such as the investigation into McClain’s death. Both the Denver and Aurora minutes state that homicide detectors from their own agencies will lead the criminal investigation into the conduct of their peers.
Joe Amon, the Denver Post
Senator John Cooke, R-Greeley, waits to address at the Denver Capitol on March 12, 2019.
This is not the type of arrangement that the main sponsor of the 2015 bill envisages.
“The spirit was that an outside agency was pretty much in charge of the investigation,” said Senator John Cooke, a Republican from Weld County and a former county sheriff.
The Denver Police Department declined a Denver Post request for an interview about the agreement and instead emailed a statement that it was in accordance with state law that required the required multi-agency team to “have at least one must include another police department or sheriff’s office. “The Department’s statement also noted that the Denver Police Department’s investigation into murders is also being monitored by the city’s independent monitor.
Although McClain was not shot, Aurora’s then boss Nick Metz decided to call on the Denver Aurora team to investigate McClain’s death in custody. However, the lead investigator on the case was still an Aurora police officer, Matt Ingui.
The report highlighted how Ingui grabbed and choked the three officers who stopped McClain, asked questions, and said the detective used guiding questions to elicit sentences supporting an officer’s case on the use of force.
Investigation report by Jonathan Smith, Dr. Melissa Costello and Roberto Villaseñor
An excerpt from a transcript between Aurora Police Officer Matt Ingui and one of the officers involved in Elijah McClain’s death, as contained in the city-commissioned independent report. The report found that the detectives who led the initial investigation used key questions to elicit sentences that would help exonerate the officers involved.
Ingui has led or participated in at least four other investigations into the use of force by police, including a fatal police shootout. Documents released by the law firms of the 17th and 18th courts show that Ingui interviewed at least six officers who were involved in four shootings, including an investigation in which he was the lead detective. The prosecution did not charge any of the officers involved in the shootings.
George Brauchler, who served as district attorney for the 18th district through January, said he never liked the Denver-Aurora agreement and it was time for Aurora to join the judicial district’s larger investigative team.
“It was just super awkward for the Aurora Police Department to file a shooting investigation against their own officers,” he said.
Even so, he is not concerned that the police shootings investigations that were brought before him were as biased as the McClain case. Too many people were involved in each investigation for one person to steer it in one direction, he said.
Seventeenth District Attorney Brian Mason said he was looking forward to discussing the findings of the report with Wilson but was unable to go further due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the Colorado Attorney General.
Eli Imadali, Denver Post special
A protester holds up a sign showing Elijah McClain playing the violin during the March against Racism and Police Violence from Aurora to Denver on Sunday, August 30, 2020.
Police police police?
Cooke said that despite the “unfortunate” agreement between Denver and Aurora that circumvented the intent of its 2015 bill, he still believes the police can be trusted to ethically investigate other police officers.
“I think people don’t give law enforcement enough credit,” he said.
Others are more skeptical.
“I think (the report) just shows the culture of blue that protects blue, but doesn’t really look for the best interests of the community,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat and one of the main sponsors of a wide variety of bill on police accountability for 2020. “This is why we need independent investigations, not just in global cases.”
Mitchell said he had concerns about the Denver-Aurora deal while working as an independent observer in Denver. The system of the state as a whole addresses concerns that officials might protect their employees within their agency, but does not address concerns about possible prejudice by law enforcement officers against others in their own job.
“I think the current system, while well-intentioned, does not go far enough to create the independence or the sense of independence that is required,” said Mitchell.
Wilson, the Aurora Police Chief, created a new unit of officers in the department in November to investigate the use of violence.
True police accountability requires civilian participation and control not only in verifying the use of force, but in hiring, promotions, and dismissal decisions, said Rashawn Ray, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, who studies police force.
There must also be financial implications for departments and officials who don’t need tax dollars, he said. For example, departments or officials could be asked to take out insurance policies to pay for bad behavior settlement litigation, he said.
“There is no one who does the things I am describing,” said Ray