CORONER: Cause of Elijah McClain death unclear; homicide by Aurora police not ruled out

AURORA | A forensic pathologist working for the Adams County Coroner’s Office was unable to determine exactly what killed 23-year-old Aurora resident Elijah McClain after he was detained by Aurora police in late August, according to an autopsy report released by the local coroner’s office Friday evening.

Forensic Pathology Consultant Dr. Stephen Cina listed McClain’s cause of death as “undetermined” in a 10-page report, but he listed a variety of potential factors that could have contributed to his demise.

“The manner of death may be accident if it was an idiosyncratic drug reaction,” Cina wrote. “It may be natural if (McClain) had an undiagnosed mental illness that led to excited delirium, if his intense physical exertion combined with a narrow coronary artery led to an arrhythmia, if he had an asthma attack, or if he aspirated vomit while restrained.”

Cina also did not rule out the possibility of homicide at the hands of Aurora police.

“It may be a homicide if the actions of officers led to his death (e.g. carotid control hold led to stimulation of the carotid sinus resulting in an arrhythmia),” according to the report.

The case has been the source of several protests,  and even halted city council meetings.

Aurora police declined to comment on the specifics of the report.

“This case is still active and ongoing,” a spokesman wrote in an email. “As previously stated in a prior press release, once the report was completed, it would be included in the case that is then presented to the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for review.”

Aurora police officers detained McClain on his way home from a north Aurora convenience store on Aug. 24, investigators have confirmed. A resident who passed McClain walking on the 1900 block of Billings Street called 911 around 10:30 p.m. after observing McClain flailing his arms while wearing a ski mask.

Upon contacting McClain, police said he ignored commands and walked away from officers. Police eventually restrained McClain using a “carotid control hold,” a maneuver that involves applying pressure to the side of a person’s neck to slow the flow of blood through the carotid arteries to the brain.

“I cannot determine whether a carotid control hold contributed to death via stimulation of the carotid sinus; there were no signs of traumatic asphyxiation,” Cina wrote.

“Most likely (McClain’s) physical exertion contributed to his death,” Cina wrote. “It is unclear if the officer’s actions contributed as well.”

McClain sustained more than a dozen abrasions and scratches to his body in the struggle, but did not break any bones, according to the report.

While being restrained by police, personnel with Aurora Fire Rescue administered McClain ketamine in an effort to sedate him, the autopsy confirmed. Cina also confirmed that McClain exhibited signs of so-called “excited delirium,” a condition used to describe people who exhibit seemingly super human strength, immunity to intense pain and hyperthermia. Though McClain did not exhibit hyperthermia and had not ingested any of the drugs typically associated with “excited delirium,” such as cocaine, Cina said he could not rule the condition out.

“The patient’s sudden collapse after an intense struggle is commonly seen in excited delirium,” he wrote.

While en route to a nearby hospital in an ambulance, McClain had a heart attack, but was revived. Cina’s report reveals McClain had a second heart attack about four hours later while receiving treatment at a local hospital.

Cina confirmed McClain was given a “therapeutic level” of ketamine, but may have had an “idiosyncratic” reaction to the drug.

“In terms of fatality, the dosage administered or ingested is not as important as the resultant concentration of the drug in the blood,” Cina wrote.

McClain’s blood ketamine level was 1.4 milligrams per liter, according to the report.

McClain was declared brain dead shortly before 4 p.m. Aug. 27, according to the report. He was taken off of life support and formally died at a local hospital three days later.

A toxicology analysis revealed McClain had THC and other cannabinoids in his system when he was taken into the hospital. McClain was also hospitalized in 2016 for LSD intoxication with “hyperactive and erratic behavior,” according to the report.

McClain’s death has sparked frequent protests at city council meetings in recent months. Protestors caused lengthy delays at the Nov. 4 meeting before council members eventually moved to a different room.

Police had previously cited the pending release of the autopsy report, as well as directives from 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young, as reasons why investigators have so far been precluded from releasing details of the case, including body camera footage.

McClain’s attorney, Mari Newman, has condemned how Aurora police treated her client and has called for a criminal investigation of the three officers involved. The trio of officers have since returned to normal duty, police confirmed last month.

“The obvious conclusion is that, had the police officers not attacked (McClain), he would still be alive,” Newman said. “Reading the results of the autopsy, it’s abundantly clear that all the various causes that they list lead to one conclusion: that this was caused by the police attacking him and not questioning him if they felt compelled to do so.”

She said the death was “no accident,” especially in light of the ketamine first responders administered.

“If the officers had just left him alone, he would have just gone home and gone to bed,” Newman said. “This was a kid minding his own business. He was not suspected of any crime whatsoever. It’s a tragedy.”

The case will now be forwarded to Young for review.

RELATED

Protesters shut down Aurora City Council meeting over officer-involved death of Elijah McClain

UNLIKELY SUSPECT: Those who knew Elijah balk at Aurora police account of his death

TOWN HALL: Residents, elected officials push for Aurora police shooting, force transparency, oversight

POLICE INVOLVED DEATH: Aurora first responders injected ketamine 17 times in 2019, records show

Aurora police release scant details on spate of lethal, injurious interactions between officers and…

PERRY: Dancing around officer-involved deaths and shootings, Aurora police shoot at their own feet

Aurora police schedule press conference to address recent deaths related to officer-interactions

Family of man who died after Aurora police encounter say it was ‘cold-blooded murder’

PERRY: Stop letting police control the information about the people they kill