AURORA | The Aurora Police Department has re-hired a former canine officer who in 2019 helped restrain Elijah McClain and threatened to unleash a police dog on the 23-year-old Black man who died several days later as a result of the stop.
Matthew Green was hired on Jan. 10 to the rank of patrol officer, according to city hiring documents obtained by The Sentinel through an open records request. Green is not one of the officers facing criminal charges in connection with McClain’s death.
“In my opinion, everyone that was there that night and did nothing to help my son stay alive are all accessories to my son’s murder,” Elijah’s mother Sheneen McClain, who said she was upset Green had been re-hired, told The Sentinel.
“He’s an asshole for taking on the slave mentality of telling a person of color they’re going to be attacked by a police dog,” she said of Green.
Green arrived with several other officers at the scene as backup in north Aurora on Aug. 24, 2019, after McClain had already been tackled to the ground, restrained and handcuffed by initial responders. An independent investigation of the stop shows that Green threatened McClain, saying he would use his police dog.
“Dude, if you keep messing around, I’m gonna bring my dog out; he’s gonna dog-bite you, you understand me? Keep messing around,” Green said to McClain. He can be heard making the threats on police camera video released by APD.
Shortly after that, the report said Green replaced officer Jason Rosenblatt in holding down McClain’s legs.
Green was first hired by APD in 2009 and left voluntarily in July 2021 to work in law enforcement for Douglas County, APD spokesperson Matthew Longshore said. He was on the K-9 unit from 2017 to 2020.
The news came following a week of controversy for APD. On Jan. 11, news broke that Nate Meier, the APD officer who was found passed out drunk behind the wheel of his police car and avoided criminal consequences in 2019, had been promoted to the rank of agent.
Also in the past two weeks, off-duty APD officer Douglas Harroun was arrested outside his home by Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office deputies for reportedly punching a disabled woman in the head during a dispute.
In August 2019, McClain was detained and placed in a chokehold during an encounter initiated by APD officers Rosenblatt, Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard. Paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper injected McClain with what investigators now describe as an overdose of the sedative drug ketamine while the 23-year-old was handcuffed and restrained on the ground. McClain went into cardiac arrest and three days later was taken off life support.
McClain’s death sparked widespread calls for firing and criminally charging the officers and paramedics involved. A growing movement also pushed for reforming the department to address its treatment of people of color. The demands gained national attention in 2020 following the death of George Floyd and led to multiple state and federal investigations of APD.
In 2021, the city entered into a consent decree with the state Attorney General’s office, which requires APD to implement 70 different reform mandates meant to break a pattern of excessive force and racial bias.
After initially saying that McClain’s cause and manner of death were both “undetermined,” an amended report from the coroner for Adams and Broomfield counties in 2021 ruled that McClain’s death was caused by “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint” but that the manner of death was still undetermined.
In 2021, a state grand jury indicted five first responders for felony manslaughter and criminally-negligent homicide, in addition to lesser crimes. After a series of delays in the case, Woodyard, Rosenblatt, Roedema, Cooper and Cichuniec are all scheduled to have an arraignment hearing Friday afternoon in Adams County District Court.
Green was not criminally charged in connection with McClain’s death, but he was named as a defendant in a 2020 lawsuit filed by McClain’s parents against the City of Aurora and 15 first responders. The lawsuit was settled for $15 million in 2021.
APD hiring is conducted by the city’s Civil Service Commission, which is responsible for the hiring and discipline of police officers and firefighters independent of the respective agencies. The commission has faced criticism in the past by police reform advocates for overturning firing or discipline decisions made by the police chief. Under the terms of the consent decree it must make as much of the disciplinary process public as possible and change the hiring process so new recruits meet with their hiring agency sooner.
Longshore said Green applied for reinstatement during the tenure of interim chief Dan Oates, who preceded current interim chief Art Acevedo. He said Oates “endorsed” Green’s reinstatement and forwarded the matter to city management, and that the Civil Service Commission ultimately signed off on Green’s hiring.
“Officer Green was within the allowed timeframe for reinstatement to APD,” Longshore said. “He will be assigned to patrol after he completes the reintegration process.”
Longshore did not answer how the department would respond to critics of the decision to welcome back one of the officers involved in the incident.
He noted that Green was not one of the officers charged in connection with McClain’s death, and said that Green had been given “a formal reprimand” by then-chief Nick Metz for a comment he made at the scene. Metz said at the time that Green was a “good officer who made a mistake.”
APD has had difficulty hiring enough officers to fill its ranks in recent years, losing 126 sworn officers in 2021, 75 officers in 2022 and spendings hundreds of thousands of dollars on overtime.
Former interim chief police Dan Oates said last year that the department has been struggling to fill its police academy classes, which makes hiring existing officers from other agencies an attractive option. A job posting on the city’s website for candidates with current or recent police officer experience has a maximum number of 200 applicants.
Sheneen McClain, Elijah’s mother, said she was “disappointed and disgusted” but not surprised by the news of Green’s rehiring. Though only five first responders were criminally charged, she says she believes everyone who was there bears responsibility.
“They’re disrespecting my family by not holding everybody at the murder site accountable,” she said.
Hiring people who disrespect the community is “APD’s M.O.,” she said.
“Him threatening my son with his dog though my son was already handcuffed — that’s their club and he is a part of that club,” she said. “It’s a bullshit club. For whatever reason, his prejudice is required at APD.”
The use of police dogs as a form of “pain compliance” has been controversial for decades, going back to at least Jim Crow years. Recently, a variety of activist groups have criticized the use of threatening injury by police dogs or actually inflicting it as a racist move targeted primarily at people of color, according to sources who talked to the Washington Post in a Sept. 2, 2020 essay, citing Green’s threat against McClain.
Sheneen McClain had been supportive of the reforms former police chief Vanessa Wilson tried to make at the department, and said that since she was fired in April it feels like that progress is being undone.
“They are doing everything they can to undo police accountability in my son’s murder,” she said.
She questioned how Green’s rehiring falls in line with the consent decree, joining other police reform advocates in voicing concerns about how effective the decree has actually been so far in bringing change to the department.
Community activist Candice Bailey was incensed by the news of the rehire.
“On the eve of the arraignments of the trial, they rehire the man who was culpable in assisting in the murder of Elijah McClain?” she said. “This is more than a slap in the face not only to the Black and brown people of Aurora, but to all the people there.”
Bailey was a key part of numerous Elijah McClain protests over the past two years and served on the Community Police Task Force, which was established to recommend changes to the police department in the wake of McClain’s death.
“There is nothing wise about rehiring a cop who threatened a Black man with his life using a dog,” she said. “That man has blood on his hands.”
Bailey said the year-old consent decree was meant to address overly aggressive tactics like the ones during the encounter with McClain.
“This just shows APD doesn’t care about the Black and brown people in this community,” she said.“How dare they…This fight is not over.”
Aurora NAACP President Omar Montgomery said the decision to bring Green back illustrates foundational problems plaguing the department: a lack of transparency, and willingness to rebuke abusive and racist officers.
“This is exactly why there isn’t a need for just a consent decree, but the need for a truly independent monitor,” Montgomery said.
He pointed to a recent city council decision to defund an independent oversight office in the city, as well as a program to instruct employees in cultural and racial diversity.
He said the news highlights why so many local leaders of color have recently expressed their disappointment with APD.
“All this keeps happening under the consent decree,” he said. “This isn’t going to change until there are real changes in the department.”
He said the video of Green threatening McClain with a biting dog immediately hearkened to the threat of dog attacks during Selma civil rights protests.
“This officer played an integral part in the murder — and I accentuate that this was a murder — of Elijah McClain. “There is no way this gentleman should be back on the Aurora Police Department. I seriously doubt this was the only time this officer has used those words or that tactic.”
He said repeated decisions like this made by the city and police department not only undermine trust in the community, but it sullies the reputation of “the hard-working officers on the police department who are doing excellent work in the community.”
Montgomery said, “We need the best officers in Aurora, and not just officers who need a job and come in and destroy the relationship between the force and the community.”
As of Saturday evening, Acevedo had not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Sentinel. Earlier in the day, he posted several replies to a tweet from State Senator Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) expressing frustration at Green’s rehiring.
“While actions of officers who violate their oath must be acknowledged and appropriately dealt with, it’s important to acknowledge the remaining majority who serve each and every day with honor. The decisions made by their leaders and rules set by others shouldn’t reflect on them,” he said on Twitter.
While Acevedo argued that officers shouldn’t be “painted with a broad brush,” in an interview with The Sentinel Fields brought up the series of scandals APD has been implicated in over the years, which she said pointed to a culture of bad policing that demands change.
“The lack of judgment is just overwhelming and it’s fatiguing,” she said of APD. “It’s more than a lack of judgment, it’s a culture that seems to be plaguing the APD and they’re rewarding by getting promoted or rehired,” referring to Meier and Green.
“The message that they’re sending to the community does not advance a level of community trust and respect towards law enforcement,” she said. “It’s been normalized almost that people expect this behavior. We have to do something.”
Fields said she has not had any conversations with police or city officials yet about the situation, but she is ready to do whatever she can at the state level to improve policing in the city.
“I’m really frustrated and disappointed,” she said. “I believe that we can be doing better and we should be doing better, and it has to start now. There has to be a higher sense of urgency to correct the course.”
Fields referenced the 2021 investigation from the state Attorney General’s office finding that APD had a pattern of using excessive force against people of color and disproportionately arrested Black residents.
“The AG has already declared that there is a pattern of excessive force that’s demonstrated towards Black and brown people,” she said. “And yet how it’s being handled, it looks like Black lives don’t matter when they let these officers come back.”
— Reporter Max Levy contributed to this story.