Aurora City Council unanimously approves scope of Elijah McClain investigation

The memorial site across the street from where 23-year-old Elijah McClain was stopped by Aurora, Colo., Police Department officers while walking home during a news conference Friday, July 3, 2020, in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

AURORA | Circumstance surrounding the death of Elijah McClain’s is set to be investigated by a team of experts. The Aurora City Council formally stated its support for the scope of the investigation via resolution Monday night. 

The body voted in favor unanimously.

The city’s new investigation will primarily examine city policies related to McClain’s arrest, including use of force by police officers and the use of ketamine by Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics. McClain was stopped by a trio of officers on Aug. 24, 2019 in the 1900 block of Billings Street after a passerby called 911 and described him as “sketchy.” Officers placed McClain, who was unarmed and never suspected of a crime, into a now-banned control hold that caused him to briefly faint. He went into cardiac arrest shortly thereafter and died at a hospital six days later.

While the entire panel hasn’t been decided upon, Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, will lead the investigative panel. He’s expected to begin investigating while the other members are chosen.

Council Member Allison Hiltz, who heads the three-member committee that gave initial approval to the investigation structure on July 16, said filling the slots on the panel has been tough given the specialties being sought and the desire to avoid all conflicts of interest. City staff decided against one leading expert on ketamine because they’ve lived in Denver for 20 years, Hiltz said. Now they’re looking for experts outside of the state.

Those investigators are expected to be brought forward to city council as Smith was.

Smith headed special litigation for the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice for five years in the Obama Administration, according to a biography posted on his group’s website. He helped lead the probe into the civil investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department after the death of Michael Brown in August 2014.

There isn’t a formal timeline on when the investigation will be finished, but the city is hoping to direct Smith and the panel to work as expediently as possible. 

The findings from the investigators will be made public when completed.

The FBI, state Attorney Genera’s office, and family of McClain are all conducting their own investigations, too.

Staff Writer Quincy Snowdon contributed to this report