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.
Always knew that aurora was awful, but with ‘kill em’ coffman as mayor and the new cop leader, who seems to be all about restorative justice for cops only, the city is going backward at an astronomical rate. Stop hiring dirty cops – that’ll save you from the black eye you seem so intent on giving yourself.
Always keep in mind that, unlike some other government entities, police forces don’t have to justify their budget with any real-world documentation of their ability to prevent crime. They have arrest figures, but of course, these don’t translate into any concrete information about the prevention of crime. When asking for taxpayer money, they don’t present any numbers that indicate that they deserve your hard-earned cash. This filters down to the individual police employee, who asks for a raise in pay and benefits, but does not have to provide any numbers that indicate that he or she has been successful at their job, as an employee in the private sector is required to do. Those that investigate crimes that have already been committed can and do present facts, figures and NUMBERS that may or may not present a justification for funding. (Often, they do) From a commonsense perspective, it would seem like a good idea to use available funds for the actual investigation of crimes already committed. The prevention of crime is one of those fantasies perpetuated by those that don’t want to work for a living. You are not only paying taxes to support these layabouts, but you are double taxed by paying their taxes through their salaries.
Oates really did just say, “Haha let’s really make a mess before I go”, didn’t he?
I guess the public and the legislature can’t really make up their minds how they want it. You want officers to warn people before they use force but then you want to make it a threat to someone’s life. The officer used very poor judgment when it was clear that use of the canine would have been entirely inappropriate. If we are to fire every officer who made a stupid comment, we would soon be out of officers. I realize that that would be fine with the people making comments until they need help. All of the unrealistic goals of the activists seem to be ignored. It is not possible to do the things that they want. APD has been seriously trying to recruit minority officers for at least 40 years.
You can’t have uninformed people making disciplinary decisions for police officers. Input and transparency, yes. Decision making, no. The present uninformed consent decree and the police reform bill are demonstrations of what happens when people who know nothing about a subject are allowed to decide. I doubt that in your job you will be forced to make sudden life and death decisions. I doubt that you will be forced to fight people hundreds of times during your career with the knowledge that one small mistake will mean the media and the public will want to crucify you.
There are good reasons why charges were not originally filed against the officers and why the department found their actions within policy. It is not lost on any officer that the present witch hunt that fits the popular narrative means that the police can no longer count on impartial justice. With this popular misinformed trend and the danger to officers, it is understandable that recruiting will be very difficult and giving any clear guidance to officers almost impossible. Would you hang your life on uninformed popular opinion. Almost everything the public believes about use of force is wrong. The legislature is no better. If I were looking for answers, I would speak to the people who do the job, not the bosses. It is arrogant to assume you can make decisions simply based upon emotion without any real knowledge or experience.
Not every bad thing that happens means someone must have done something wrong. If a pro football athlete can suddenly collapse, you should understand that people who are involved in a long struggle are susceptible to some type of physical collapse. In many cases, like George Floyd, drugs are involved. I am not saying that Officer Chauvin should not have been prosecuted. The police condemned his actions from the start. People have been dying for years after struggles with police in which no choke or other major force was used. You just haven’t paid attention. Sad that a nice person like Elijah was not taught to cooperate with the police. I keep hearing how every black family has that conversation with their children. Yet, we constantly see just the opposite on the street.
If things cannot be judged by impartial, informed people, we have a problem. I guess looking at the kind of people who are chosen as our presidential candidates should give you an idea on how much we can count on the judgment of uninformed citizens.
Is it to late to ask you to work for a living before you pontificate to those thst do?
You confuse me with your constant assertion that Mr. Black does not work for a living. Do you know him? From what I gather, he had a long career in law enforcement, and seems highly credible, if not a touch arrogant.
Is he retired? If so, is he not entitled to the same kind of pension that so many other public officials are? I don’t get your beef. Please add context so I can join in your dismay or discount it.
Sure. Don claims to not only to have deserved a salary but asks that we pay his taxes (we are in effect, double taxed, since his taxes are removed from the money he has extorted from us) Ask Don, in reference to his long career in law enforcement for specific correlations (specific numbers) that indicate that his claim that he has prevented crime have resulted in any specific reduction in crime. Not anecdotes, not feel-good suggestions, but real-world numbers that would justify paying Don his unearned salary and benefit package. He cannot do this because there simply aren’t any. Don may have investigated crimes and may have solved some (a perfectly legitimate enterprise) and if he were to be employed specifically to do so, then we could discuss, as his employer, what that job was worth to us and if we were willing to pay him to perform the job. Don’s suggestion that simply because he sat around on his behind for a number of decades and talked about preventing crime gives him the right to steal tax dollars is absurd. He and his fellow “crime fighters”, unless they are employed to investigate crime, are tax thieves, no better than the crooks they claim to “fight”.
I pay for services based on real life examination of their value. Don’s backup claim is that he “protects” you from bad people. I believe that this is known as a protection racket in the trade. ” It would be a shame if someone burned down this fine establishment of yours” Don and his fellow tax thieves cannot and will not protect you. They will show up and draw a chalk line around you when you are dead. (Ask the children at the Urvadla school) It is your responsibility to protect yourself and your property.
I have a better picture of you now. I get it, you hate police and Don was police. I will summarily ignore you now. Thank you.
You’re welcome. Just a suggestion, using these old cliches only out you as a phony conservative. Top that off with your willingness to help tax thieves you find yourself in a very bad position. Licking boots will get you one thing, a dirty tongue. Bye bye…
Once again, Good Citizen kicks a lying tax cheat down the road! My hats off to you, old man!
Don, murder is murder.
“If things cannot be judged by impartial, informed people, we have a problem.” Therein lies the issue. The APD, and most police departments in the US, have shown themselves repeatedly to be “good ol’ boys clubs”. Someone screws up and the rest of the department covers for them. They cover up or falsify evidence, they write incomplete or misleading reports, and they refuse to press charges against their own. Cops shouldn’t be above the law, and they shouldn’t get a pass just because the job is difficult.
Very well said. I appreciate our Law Enforcement (no, “good” citizen, I am not a Police Officer) and everything they do to protect us. Their job is not only in the spotlight, but thankless, life-threatening, and they are ridiculed. Mr.”Good” Citizen, I don’t imagine you would appreciate the media continuously attacking you in ways that made you appear evil. Cut them a break. They’ve had enough backlash. It’s time to focus on our own lives.
When are we as people, going to understand that these people don’t care about us as human beings. Specifically men of color. They see us a major threat.. in the wrong way.
Hahaha! Are any of you surprised? Before this, didn’t I read a story in this same paper about Aurora rehiring an officer found passed out drunk in his cruiser? Now we’re violating every standard when it comes to the APD. Now I see why they were so anxious to hire Acevedo. Oates must’ve confirmed thats he is willing to violate every standard of decency to rehire people to be police officers that couldn’t be rehired to deliver packages for Amazon for the same offenses. I mean, I couldn’t pass out in my delivery van, nor could I threaten the people im delivering to, and still have a job or be rehired after doing so. Shows you how pitifully low the APD standards are. “Must be willing to violate the rights of the populace, abuse local, state, and federal laws, and politely support other local officials in doing the same.”
This whole thing is egregiously f****** pathetic. Every person that stands for this should be embarrassed of themselves. For outright, unadulterated weakness. Oh, and to EVERY member of the Council, regardless of affiliation, that tolerate, supports, and funds this. Since the lives of ordinary citizens don’t matter to you, I hope the lives you treasure most are threatened. I hope they are destroyed by bad policing, so you can feel how everybody else does. Until then, here’s my middle finger. Sit on it and spin. When you reach the elbow, you’re at the end of the ride…
Racism, brutality, bad training and recruiting and use of police (no more traffic stops by them, wellness checks, mental health call responses, no contact with homeless), are systemic in US because police formed after Civil War for one reason: track down Black People and especially Freed People and trump up a charge and get them back to slavery/labor camps or kill them. We have to start over with the entire policing system and unfortunately, APD is one of the worst examples in the US. Some cities are doing this well and right with major reform and we need to look to them as our example.
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