Elijah McClain protest yields shooting, vandalism, chaos and traffic snarls in Aurora

AURORA |Multiple people were injured in Aurora Saturday after shots rang out and an unidentified driver plowed through a crowd of demonstrators protesting for Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old unarmed Black man who died days after several police officers detained him last year.

Police said one person was shot in the leg and another later drove themselves to a local hospital with a graze wound after a person fired multiple shots into a crowd that had assembled to protest McClain’s death the afternoon of July 25. The shooting occurred after a Jeep, which police later impounded, drove through hundreds of protestors walking down Interstate 225 in Aurora.

At about 7 p.m. the blue Jeep surged into herds of protesters in the northbound lanes of I-225 about a half-mile south of East Sixth Avenue, witnesses said.




Protester Natalie Lebesma said a driver in a white truck pulled quickly in front of the Jeep, ramming it and keeping it from plowing into people.


During the fracas after the Jeep ran into the crowd, one protester pulled out a gun, and appeared to be aiming at the Jeep but instead shot another protester in the leg, multiple witnesses said.

Aurora police confirmed the shooting allegation and were investigating.

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Carl Glenn Payne, a freelance photographer, confirmed that and said several people had video of the event.

Several witnesses said there were no police anywhere near the center of the chaos and an ambulance took about 10 minutes to arrive.

Despite the shooting and injuries, the marchers returned to city hall, and and most of them disbanded.

A remaining 150 or so protesters pushed for a confrontation with police, which never materialized even though the group turned to vandalism.

Hours after the march, police put out a small fire inside the building that houses the Aurora Municipal Court after someone shot a fire cracker into the building. More than a dozen windows on the building in the Aurora municipal complex were smashed during a chaotic scene that unfolded as night fell.

The crowd used plywood torn from buildings as shields and moved into East Alameda Parkway. There, for a short time, protesters forced traffic to turn around and drive over a raised median, for about 30 minutes.

Police reported no arrests during the evening, and there were no physical confrontations between officers and protestors. Still, police issued multiple dispersal orders from a loudspeaker and threatened to use chemical weapons against anyone who stayed in the area. No such agents were used.

That marked a change from how officers interacted with protestors at a violin vigil held to honor McClain on June 27. At that event, officers deployed pepper spray and foam rounds as musicians punctuated the area with music. Police actions at that event has since prompted a class action lawsuit.

The chaos came after a quiet beginning to the day.

Protesters came from a variety of places, including some who flew in from Minneapolis to honor McClain. Three protesters in their 20s said they had no other connection to metro Aurora, other than to come here and protest in solidarity with a community that had minority residents subjected to lethal police brutality.

Ana Franklin and her partner, Michael, live in Aurora and said they brought their 2-year-old girl to the protest also in solidarity with McClain, killed while unarmed and after being arrested by police.

McClain was stopped by a trio of officers on Aug. 24, 2019 on his way home from a convenience store 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.

McClain “was such a wonderful soul,” Franklin said, empathizing him in part because of his veganism. She said as a mother, she could not imagine losing a child, especially under such circumstances.

A speaker identifying himself as Joel from the Party for Socialism and Liberation said his group, which organized Saturday’s event, had three demands: murder charges filed agains the three officers who stopped and arrested McClain, restitution for McClain’s family and the defunding and disarming of Aurora police.

Organizers with the socialist group left the event around nightfall, moments before windows were shattered and a fence in front of Aurora police headquarters was upended.

Janice Rowe said she came to the protest because as a black woman, she, too, lives in fear of an encounter with Aurora police. A military veteran, she said she’s been stopped arbitrarily by Aurora police for what she considered no legitimate reason.

“No one should have to live in fear for their life,” from the police, she said.

All vehicle entrances to Aurora City Hall complex have been barricaded and police issued de facto rules of engagement yesterday as police girded for the new McClain protest.

A group on Twitter calling themselves Wall of Moms – Denver were asking for area “moms” to attend the event to encircle protesters, similarly as others have done during precent protests in Portland, Ore. Volunteers here are asked to wear yellow and form a circle looking out out from the protest “so we can be aware and alert about what is happening around them.”

Several of the volunteers were visible during the protest.

On Friday, Aurora police issued a lengthy statement outlining expectations for the protest. At about 3:30 p.m., Aurora police said the city was on accident alert and “priority dispatching.”

The APD announcement, which outlined some qualifications to the First Amendment and stipulates that no weapons or drones will be permitted at the event, came one day after a pair of Denver civil rights attorneys sued the city over allegations that officers violated protestors’ constitutional rights at another demonstration that grew chaotic on June 27. Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson lamented the escalation in the days after officers and local sheriff’s deputies deployed smoke canisters, pepper spray and foam rounds.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Mari Newman and Andy McNulty, stems from dispersal orders that were given via loudspeakers as dozens of violinists began a vigil for McClain, the unarmed Black man who died six days after police detained him and placed him in a now-banned control hold in the 1900 block of Billings Street.

Officers arrested two people, a 24-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man, on failure to obey charges at the June 27 event. Two additional people were arrested on suspicion of obstructing a roadway and failure to obey at another demonstration outside of an Aurora police substation on July 3, police said.

Past Sentinel Colorado Coverage of Elijah McClain:

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• Aurora City Council unanimously approves scope of Elijah McClain investigation

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

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• 3 Aurora officers fired for involvement in Elijah McClain photo lampoon appeal terminations

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• EDITORIAL: Don’t vandalize Aurora’s moment to seize police reform and justice for Elijah McClain

• Elijah McClain protesters entrench at Aurora police station

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• Aurora police defend Elijah McClain protest response to city lawmakers

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