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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”