AURORA | Adams County prosecutors have announced they will not file any criminal charges against officers who were involved in the detention and arrest of Elijah McClain, who died after an interaction with police and medics on Aug. 24.
The announcement was made by Aurora police Friday night.
District Attorney Dave Young said criminal charges would have come from indisputable evidence that Aurora police or others used “unjustified” force when confronting McClain. Young said that burden of proof did not exist.
“Based on the investigation presented and the applicable Colorado law, there is no reasonable likelihood of success of proving any state crimes beyond a reasonable doubt at trial,” Young said in his letter to Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz. “Therefore, no state criminal charges will be filed as a result of this incident.”
The McClain family’s attorney, Mari Newman, condemned Young’s decision.
“If Aurora thinks this is appropriate policing, the community should be petrified,” she said. “We are disappointed, but not surprised that once again, members of law enforcement will not (be) held criminally accountable for killing an unarmed black man.”
Police on Friday also released more than three hours of body-worn camera footage of McClain’s arrest and audio of the 911 call that prompted officers to be dispatched to the 1900 block of Billings Street. That’s where Aurora officers contacted McClain as he was walking home from a nearby convenience store at about 10:40 p.m.
In the 911 call, a man named Juan reported that a man wearing a mask was waving his arms and looking “sketchy.” Juan said he did not feel that he was in any danger.
A trio of officers responded to question McClain, who was indeed wearing a ski mask and a jacket on the 80-degree evening. The interaction immediately became combative, with footage showing McClain’s increasing angst as police began arresting him.
McClain told officers: “Let me go. I am an introvert, please respect my boundaries that I am speaking.” While attempting to move McClain, officers said he attempted to grab one of their holstered guns. They then took him to the ground “as quickly as possible,” per Young’s report.
Throughout the interaction, officers tell McClain to “Stop tensing up, dude” and “Chill out.”
After being placed on administrative leave immediately after their interaction with McClain, all three responding officers — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema — have since been placed back on normal duty.
Upon pinning McClain to the ground on a nearby lawn, Rosenblatt attempted to apply a “carotid control hold” on McClain before eventually backing off. From a different vantage point, Woodyard then successfully placed McClain into the specialized control hold, pressing against McClain’s neck artery until he briefly fainted.
McClain proceeds to repeatedly vomit and sob while handcuffed.
At one point, an officer tells McClain: “If you keep messing around, I’m going to bring my dog out and he’s going to dog bite you, you understand me?”
Metz lamented that threat.
“It was unprofessional,” he said. “That comment has been addressed with that officer through a written corrective action … I do want to provide an apology to the family because when they saw that and heard that it was something that really disturbed them greatly and to that, again, I do very much and sincerely apologize.”
Metz had invited the McClain family to watch the body camera footage months ago, and visited with McClain’s mother while he was receiving treatment in the hospital.
The case has been vexing since the day police announced the confrontation with McClain.
Two weeks ago, a forensic pathologist working for the Adams County Coroner’s Office was unable to determine exactly what led to McClain’s death. McClain was pronounced brain dead shortly before 4 p.m. Aug. 27, according to the coroner’s report. He died three days later.
That report was also released on a Friday evening.
Forensic Pathology Consultant Dr. Stephen Cina listed a variety of potential factors that could have contributed to his McClain’s demise.
“The manner of death may be accident if it was an idiosyncratic drug reaction,” Cina wrote. “It may be natural if (McClain) had an undiagnosed mental illness that led to excited delirium, if his intense physical exertion combined with a narrow coronary artery led to an arrhythmia, if he had an asthma attack, or if he aspirated vomit while restrained.”
Cina also did not rule out the possibility of homicide at the hands of Aurora police.
“It may be a homicide if the actions of officers led to his death (e.g. carotid control hold led to stimulation of the carotid sinus resulting in an arrhythmia),” according to the report.
In the body camera footage, the officers who detained McClain said he was exhibiting exceptional strength, at one point nearly completing a push-up with three officers on top of him.
“Most likely (McClain’s) physical exertion contributed to his death,” Cina wrote. “It is unclear if the officer’s actions contributed as well.”
While being restrained by police, Aurora Fire Rescue Medic Jeremy Cooper administered McClain 500 milligrams of ketamine in an effort to sedate him.
The coroner’s report explained that McClain exhibited signs of so-called “excited delirium,” a condition used to describe people who exhibit seemingly super human strength, immunity to intense pain and hyperthermia. Injecting patients believed to be experiencing “excited delirium” with ketamine follows Aurora Fire protocols, according to internal department documents.
Though McClain did not exhibit hyperthermia and had not ingested any of the drugs typically associated with “excited delirium,” such as cocaine, Cina said he could not rule the condition out.
“The patient’s sudden collapse after an intense struggle is commonly seen in excited delirium,” he wrote.
While en route to a nearby hospital in an ambulance, McClain had two heart attacks, but was revived, according to the autopsy.
Cina confirmed McClain was given a “therapeutic level” of ketamine, but may have had an “idiosyncratic” reaction to the drug.
“In terms of fatality, the dosage administered or ingested is not as important as the resultant concentration of the drug in the blood,” Cina wrote.
McClain’s blood ketamine level was 1.4 milligrams per liter, according to the report.
More than 90 Colorado emergency healthcare agencies are currently cleared to administer ketamine, including Aurora Fire, which has been using the drug for nearly one year.
At the press conference Friday, Aurora Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Stephen McInerny said a doctor reviewed the treatments fire paramedics administered McClain and determined appropriate actions were taken.
“Based on multiple reviews, Aurora Fire has concluded that the patient care provided to Mr. McClain was appropriate based on the circumstances of this emergency scene,” McInerny said.
A toxicology analysis revealed McClain had THC and other cannabinoids in his system when he was taken into the hospital. McClain was also hospitalized in 2016 for LSD intoxication with “hyperactive and erratic behavior,” according to the coroner’s report.
McClain’s death has sparked frequent protests at city council meetings in recent months. Protestors caused lengthy delays at the Nov. 4 meeting before council members eventually moved to a different room.
Metz said he elected to hold the press conference late Friday night because he had previously planned to alert the public of the outcome of Young’s decision regardless of when it was released. He said he received Young’s letter at 3:35 p.m. Friday.
“We realize this is a late hour and I know that this has created some questions and so forth about why are we doing this on a Friday night,” Metz said. ” … I didn’t what to hold this declination letter for several days and create concern in the community that I was holding onto information intentionally.”
He added that the decision to withhold the release of the body camera footage for nearly three months was his, though Young also encouraged him to keep the video private until his letter was complete.
“It was my decision to do that in the realm of protecting the integrity of this investigation and the credibility of the investigation,” he said. “And that was also requested of me by the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and I felt that that was the right thing to do on that request.”
The case will now be forwarded to a “force review board,” composed of senior Aurora police brass, for review. If any violations are found, they will be forwarded to the department’s internal affairs office for further review.
In addition to the force review board, Metz will present the case to a “tactical review board” composed of several outside “force experts” from agencies across the region and possibly the country. That board’s findings could spur department policy changes.
Metz said he plans to address additional community concerns at a meeting organized by City Councilwoman Nicole Johnston and hosted by the local chapter of the NAACP at an Aurora church Tuesday evening.