2 years later, pending probes into Elijah McClain’s death thwart closure

Sheneen McClain, the mother of Elijah McClain, a young man who died after a stop by police in Aurora, Colo., and has spurred investigations of police practices while galvanizing calls for police reforms, is shown in the office of her attorney, Qusair Mohamedbhai, Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

AURORA Tuesday marks two years since Aurora first responders detained, restrained and sedated Elijah McClain as he was walking along the 1900 block of Billings Street, but how much the 23-year-old massage therapist could further alter the zeitgeist remains undetermined as a slew of investigations borne out of his death still linger.

Through her attorney, McClain’s mother, Sheneen, said she plans to spend the second anniversary of her son’s death with her family, celebrating his life and mourning his demise. Last year, Sheneen McClain called for the cancellation of a planned demonstration commemorating one year since Elijah’s death, after thousands of people vowed to participate on Facebook.

Candice Bailey, a member of Aurora’s police-community task force who helped organize an event honoring Elijah McClain’s life in Denver last year, said last week there are no plans for organized gatherings in 2021.

Candice Bailey yells to protestors with raw emotion, June 27, 2020 at the Aurora Municipal Center. Thousands gathered to protest and pay tribute to Elijah McClain, who died in 2019 after an encounter with three officers from the Aurora Police Department.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

McClain’s death spawned international protests across the metroplex last summer — resulting in dozens of felony charges against organizers that were later dismissed — after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis brought new attention to his interaction with Aurora police and fire officials the evening of Aug. 24, 2019. A passerby described McClain as “sketchy” to first responders, prompting them to place the unarmed man in a now-banned control hold and sedate him with ketamine.

His heart stopped a short time later, and was pronounced brain dead on Aug. 27, 2019. He was taken off life support three days later.

While no criminal charges have been filed against any of the officers or paramedics who interacted with McClain, attorneys representing McClain’s parents and estate have sued the city and several first responders in federal court.

Elijah McCalin in an intensive care unit shortly before his family disconnected him from life support. McClain encountered Aurora police one night last month, was subdued and drugged during the encounter. He suffered cardiac arrest during the encounter and never regained consciousness, his family said. PHOTO SUPPLIED

The case remains pending though the parties engaged in mediation earlier this summer, records show.

Qusair Mohamedbhai, who is representing Sheneen McClain in the suit, said the parties remain in contact and a resolution could be announced “in the not too distant future.”

In January, the federal magistrate overseeing the case urged the parties to move toward resolution when considering requests that could have added years to the proceedings.

“The City of Aurora shouldn’t be under a cloud for two years,” Magistrate judge N. Reid Neureiter said at a Jan. 6 hearing, according to court transcripts. “ … Justice shouldn’t take that long, especially when you’ve got allegations as serious as the ones here involving a dead young man, who apparently, based on everything I’ve read in the complaint and the answers … nobody’s saying that he did anything wrong. And so the public is entitled to some answers here.”

Attorneys for the city have said the case has resulted in some 150,000 pages of discovery, likely making it the most extensive in Aurora history.

A bevy of separate investigations related to McClain’s death ordered by federal and state officials remain pending, including probes by the Department of Justice, the state attorney general and the state health department.

From left to right, the father of Elijah McClain, LaWayne Mosley, their lawyer, Mari Newman, and Elijah’s mother, Sheneen McClain. From a press conference and protest at Aurora city hall Oct. 1, 2019. PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

In February, a panel of consultants hired by the city to evaluate the circumstances that led up to McClain’s death concluded that police and firefighters did not have the authority nor justification to stop, hold, arrest, subdue, choke or medicate McClain.

Another city-commissioned report into the Aurora Police Department as a whole recently suggested the city should overhaul how officers use force, diversify the department’s ranks and retool how personnel are disciplined for breaking the rules, among a slew of additional changes.

The roughly 160-page report that cost the city more than $350,000 runs through more than 47 recommendations for the beleaguered department.

Elijah McClain
Photo courtesy of Sheneen McClain

City management and police brass have already started implementing some of the suggestions, including the creation of a force investigation unit, bans on certain maneuvers used on McClain and the recent addition of a police auditor and the promise of a new monitor position to oversee the department. A citizen-led task force has also met for more than a year to issue additional guidelines for the department, a process that culminated in a series of recommendations issued earlier this spring. When those suggestions could be adopted remains undetermined, according to task force members.

In January, Attorney General Phil Weiser sent the case to the state grand jury, raising the specter of criminal charges against the officers and paramedics who interacted with McClain. The grand jury’s probe remains pending, and Weiser’s office has repeatedly declined to provide details on when they could return a decision.

Weiser’s office also opened a “patterns and practices” investigation into the Aurora police department, the results of which have yet to be released.

“Ms. McClain is satisfied with the progress, and continues to encourage Phil Weiser to complete the investigation in a timely manner,” Mohamedbhai wrote in an emaill. “ … Sheneen continues to call for substantial murder charges to be brought against all those involved in Elijah’s death.”

Jeff Hughes plays his violin to thousands of protestors as APD officers and Arapaho County Sheriff’s deputies, in riot gear, descended on peaceful protestors during the Elijah McClain protest, June 27 at the Aurora Municipal Center.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado
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Don Black
Don Black
1 year ago

Although Elijah McClain’s death is a tragedy, it must be put in perspective. Race had nothing to do with it. Someone called the police. There had been robberies in the area. The area was not a quiet residential area. An Aurora officer was killed in the area years ago trying to stop a robbery suspect. Elijah resisted the police effort to stop him and talk to him. This is the case in most of the police killings of young black men. Elijah did do something wrong. He was guilty of Obstructing under state law. When someone won’t stop long enough for you to talk to them and “deescalate”, then you have no choice but to put a hand on them. Now, we have apparently decided that it is okay to disobey the law and fight the police. The legislature has passed a bill that paralyzes the police. It is a knee jerk reaction with vague language and a clear desire to punish the police. You can’t police with vague guidance and the promise that you will be punished if you don’t stick to the vague language in the bill. Please understand that if you do things out of ignorance and good intent, it doesn’t lessen the damage. If there is any law you want enforced, then you can forget it. Calling something police reform, doesn’t make it so. If there are criminal charges out of this tragic death, it will completely freeze law enforcement. The police are already afraid to take action on even the most minor things. The police cannot afford to be judged by people who have already shown both ignorance of the realities involved in policing but also a complete refusal to even hear the police side. The police realize that their leaders will not stand up and tell you the truth because they will lose their jobs. Police work is full of cases of people lying and resisting. If the public can’t understand that force is necessary, then they must accept that our laws will not be enforced. Transparency is a good thing. It goes both ways. So far, the media just wants to give you one side.

1 year ago
Reply to  Don Black

This is simply wrong. Under the US Constitution an officer needs specific facts that make it likely that a crime has been committed, in progress, or about to be comitted. Ohio v. Terry, U.S. v. Mendenhall.

Without facts indicative of a specific crime NO LEVEL OF POLICE FORCE IS LEGAL.

This is called reasonable suspicion.

Elijah McClain was walking down the street listening to head phones. No facts to indicate that any crime was comitted, in progress, or about to be comitted.

These cops used illegal force and killed a kid. Whether or not the kid defended himself from the illegal force is irrelevant. The police acted illegally.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 year ago

There will never be “justice” for Elijah or his family.
And it is trite to say we hope this will never have to happen to another. The Grand Jury, the State Attorney and the City are withholding the results of the investigation for good reason. When those results are revealed, they are going to be shocking and will result in lots of anger, the type of which officials are fearful, and for good reason. They may cause protests the likes of which we have never seen. My hope and prayer are that the police do not enflame or arouse the protesters and that there is no violence.