Aurora council panel suggests DC civil rights attorney to lead new Elijah McClain query


AURORA | Aurora residents got a glimpse of what the city’s new investigation into the death of Elijah McClain may look like on Thursday, when a city council panel granted initial approval to a resolution outlining the shape of the upcoming query and proposing a Washington D.C.-based civil rights attorney as the lead investigator.

The three members of the city’s public safety policy committee signed off on the rejiggered independent investigation without objection at a regular meeting July 16, teeing up discussion of the probe by the full council at a study session July 20.

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.

A panel of at least three expert consultants will run the city’s forthcoming investigation, according to the draft resolution discussed Thursday. Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, will lead the investigative panel.

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.

Along with the FBI, the same division of the DOJ is also looking into the Aurora Police Department for its handling of McClain’s death, federal authorities announced late last month.

State Attorney General Phil Weiser, too, has been named a special prosecutor to head yet another investigation into McClain’s death that will focus on possible criminal charges against the officers and paramedics involved. The district attorney who initially looked into McClain’s death, Dave Young, declined to levy any criminal charges against first responders last November, saying he couldn’t meet the legal threshold needed for prosecution.

The McClain family’s attorney, Mari Newman, has said she also plans to initiate her own investigation into the case.

Allison Hiltz, who serves as chairwoman of the public safety committee, said officials have faced some initial hiccups finding a medical consultant that can look into paramedics’ use of ketamine on McClain. She said several possible investigators have presented conflicts of interest, though possible candidates are expected to be presented to council at the next scheduled study session on Monday.

The city jettisoned a previous investigator hired to look into the McClain case in February due to his standing ties to law enforcement. Hiltz, as well as council members Curtis Gardner and Angela Lawson, said attorney Eric Daigle, a former Connecticut state trooper, was incapable of serving as an independent voice. City Manager Jim Twombly eventually agreed and axed his contract, which stipulated Daigle would be paid $225 per hour.

The city’s investigation does not have a deadline for completion, though investigators are urged to complete the query “as expeditiously as possible,” according to city documents.