AURORA POLICE PANEL: Cops acted properly in scuffle leading to the death of Elijah McClain

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Screen shot from Aurora Police press conference and body cam video regarding the officer-involved death of Elijah McClain

AURORA | An internal Aurora Police Department panel tasked with evaluating use of force has determined that the officers who detained a 23-year-old Aurora man days before he died last summer followed department protocol when they restrained him using a specialized control hold. 

The police department’s Force Review Board on Jan. 28 found that the three officers who stopped Elijah McClain for looking “suspicious” in north Aurora on Aug. 24 had a “lawful reason” to contact him and used proper restraint tactics they were trained to employ, police said.

“The force applied during the altercation, to include the carotid control hold, and the force applied during the altercation was within policy and consistent with training,” a spokesperson for Aurora police wrote in a statement released late Thursday. 

The McClain family’s attorney, Mari Newman, issued a statement Thursday condemning the Force Review Board’s findings. 

“Outrageously, Aurora has concluded that this force was ‘within policy and consistent with training,’” she wrote. “The community should be horrified. Aurora keeps promising ‘transparency,’ but tonight’s late-hour press release is yet another example of Aurora doing its best to keep Elijah’s family and the community in the dark. We are disappointed, but not surprised, that once again, Aurora has condoned its officers’ killing of an unarmed black man.”

Multiple officers struggled to subdue McClain in the 1900 block of Billings Street after a 911 caller reported a man with a ski mask was waving his arms while walking down the street. He was eventually overcome after two different officers attempted to place McClain in a carotid control hold, cutting off blood flow on the side of his neck until he briefly fainted. 

McClain, who was unarmed when police contacted him, was later sedated with ketamine and went into cardiac arrest while being transported to a nearby hospital. He died several days later. 

McClain’s death prompted months of protests at Aurora city council meetings and outside of the city municipal center on East Alameda Avenue.

Following the Force Review Board’s decision, City Manager Twombly said he plans to conduct an additional “critical incident review” of the Aurora police and fire response to the McClain call. A panel of residents and a national law enforcement consultant will review all materials related to the McClain case as part of the inquiry, Twombly said. The final results will eventually be made public. 

“It is not enough to see if policies were followed, we now need to take a very critical look at all aspects of the incident and make changes that better serve our community,” Twombly said in a statement.

The force review panel consists of several sworn Aurora police staffers. No outside entities are involved in that board’s decisions.

Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson lauded Twombly’s plans, saying the department will continue to evaluate how it can improve.

“We’re going to be looking at what as a department are things we can do differently,” she said.

Twombly added that he has initiated a formal audit of the police department’s body-worn camera program, the results of which will be released this summer. The department faced blowback for its use of the devices after it was discovered that all three of the officers who interacted with McClain had their cameras become “dislodged,” obscuring footage of the encounter. 

The city authorized an emergency order of new camera mounts late last month in an effort to better secure the devices to officers’ bodies, Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor said at a public meeting Jan. 17.

Twombly said the city is also meeting with local district attorneys to discuss how police departments may be able to release body camera footage of contentious incidents like that involving McClain sooner. The city didn’t release the body camera footage related to McClain for nearly three months, claiming district attorneys had asked police to clamp down on the release of the video in an effort to preserve the sanctity of the judicial process.

“Our goal would be to release video more expeditiously without jeopardizing the judicial process,” Twombly said.