Aurora police were wrong from the moment they contacted Elijah McClain, 23, until the man’s limp body was loaded onto a stretcher and taken to the hospital, where he died days later after doctors thought him brain dead declared and taken him out of his life support.
It took 18 months for a truth report to be published. Investigators found that Aurora police and other first responders made terrible, inexcusable mistakes that led to McClain’s tragic death. Major changes need to be made to Aurora in response to the report, but police, firefighters, and paramedics across the state also need to change.
Make no mistake, other reports have been released, but these accounts of McClain’s final moments did not reflect the tragedy of what happened and, most importantly, did not require changes to police training or operations that could prevent it from happening to anyone else. Both Aurora Police and Fire Services investigated and concluded that no guidelines were violated. . The Aurora Police Department’s Force Review Board wrote that the force deployed followed the department’s guidelines and training.
Anyone who has watched the August 24, 2019 police footage instinctively knows that the police were wrong. And now an independent review body commissioned by Aurora City Council has released its findings that police and first responders were terribly mistaken.
In a report released on Monday, the panel found:
- Aurora Police were not authorized to initiate an initial “investigation freeze”, nor were they authorized to pat or search McClain.
- The officers had no likely reason that a crime had been committed when they began arresting or arresting McClain. McClain’s “tension” over the fact that officers were holding his arms was neither evidence of a crime nor McClain’s desire to keep going.
- While audio taping the encounter, an officer said McClain attempted to grab one of their guns, allowing officers to use the first stop of carotid control if they were reasonably concerned for their lives or safety.
- After McClain was brought to the ground by the three officers, continued use of pain compliance techniques and an additional control area for the carotid artery was not police policy. “The tape therefore provides no evidence of the officers’ perception of a threat that would justify Officer (Nathan) Woodyard’s carotid grip, which resulted in Mr. McClain being either partially or completely unconscious.
- Aurora first responders did not adequately treat McClain or exercise their care in administering McClain ketamine, including deciding how much of the strong depressant to administer.
Every Coloradan should read this report, as it goes well beyond assessing the errors that night and how, for a year and a half, those responsible for investigating the events were able to protect the police and the first responders involved from discipline or even public criticism. And it’s a harsher reality that such events have been going on for years, but police departments have developed a well-oiled machine to handle the shortcomings of their work and give the public the shine of legitimacy.
The investigation found: “The interviews conducted by Major Crime investigators did not ask the basic, critical questions about the justification of the use of force that a prosecutor needs to determine whether the use of force is legally justified. Instead, the questions often appeared to be designed to evoke a certain exonerating “magical language” found in court judgments. “
While the then District Attorney in the 17th Judicial District declined to bring charges against the officers, further investigation by the Colorado Attorney General, the U.S. Department of Justice, and a civil lawsuit filed by McClain’s family will continue to shed light on who should do so for death of an innocent man being held accountable by police and first responders who clearly violate several department policies, laws governing police behavior, and common sense.
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