Aurora axes contract with former state trooper hired to reinvestigate death of Elijah McClain

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Hundreds of protestors turned out to Aurora City Hall Saturday June 6, focusing on the deaths of Aurora blacks at the hands of local police. PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | The City of Aurora has nixed its contract with a Connecticut-based attorney and former police officer who was hired to further examine the events that led up to and followed the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain last summer.

The contactual annulment was announced one day after City Manager Jim Twombly reminded the public that Aurora officials had hired the former Connecticut state trooper, Eric Daigle, to perform a “critical incident review” of the interaction between three Aurora police officers and McClain, an unarmed black man who died several days after officers placed him in a carotid control hold and local paramedics injected him with ketamine last August.

“I have canceled Mr. Daigle’s contract and will be meeting with the council as soon as possible to determine our next steps initiating a new review,” Twombly said in a statement. “Together, we all want to achieve meaningful improvements, eliminate racial inequity and make lives better in our community. This review — and ultimately its findings — is a critical step toward these goals.”

Daigle was charging the city $225 an hour for his services, according to a contract provided to The Sentinel. He is expected to issue the city a bill for services rendered thus far in the coming days.

Twombly’s announcement came one day after a trio of city council members, Allison Hiltz, Curtis Gardner and Angela Lawson, publicly lamented Daigle’s ties to law enforcement, saying his firm’s work defending municipalities and police department’s in use of force lawsuits disqualified him from serving as a neutral voice.

“The problem wasn’t his qualifications, it’s that his specialty was in direct contradiction of what we were trying to do,” Hiltz, who serves as chairperson of the council’s public safety committee, said. “The optics were not great and one might think he was hired to figure out what our liability was going to be rather than offer an investigation given his background, and I don’t think that’s what anybody wants.”

The city retained Daigle in February after an internal police board in January determined all three officers who detained McClain as he was walking home from a convenience store in the 1900 block of Billings Street followed department protocols. Though his work was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, Daigle was slated to provide a draft of his findings to another police panel in July.

It’s now unclear when a review of McClain’s death may be completed.

The district attorney tasked with legally evaluating the actions of the officers who detained McClain, Dave Young, cleared police of any wrongdoing in November. Aurora Fire personnel on the scene were also deemed to have acted properly.

A coroner’s report was unable to specify McClain’s specific cause of death. The Aurora man survived two heart attacks en route to a nearby hospital, but he was pronounced brain dead three days later and died Aug. 30.

Hiltz said she imagines that a use of force expert would need to weigh in on any new investigation. But she said, “there’s a difference between having an expert like Daigle, who has a history of defending cities, lead the investigation.”

Public interest in the McClain case has been significantly reinvigorated following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last month. More than 1 million have now signed a Change.org petition calling for a new investigation into McClain’s death. The petition also calls for the three Aurora police officers who detained McClain, Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema, to be taken off duty.

Sentinel Staff Writer Kara Mason contributed to this story.