Investigators, city leaders look for answers in wake of chaotic Saturday Elijah McClain protest

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AURORA | Aurora investigators are piecing together what precipitated a shooting, a collision between two vehicles on Interstate 225 and extensive damage to the facade of the Aurora municipal courthouse during a chaotic protest for Elijah McClain Saturday. 

Police have identified a man suspected of firing multiple shots into a crowd of people as a car sped through hundreds marching along I-225 just north of the exit to East Sixth Avenue July 25, though officials have yet to recommend any charges or release the man’s name. Investigators had solicited

Through pictures provide to Aurora Police from a witness, this male is considered a person of interest in the shooting of two people on Interstate 225. Police said on Monday they had identified the person.Photo provided by Aurora Police

tips from the public in an effort to ascertain the man’s identity on Sunday. One man was shot in the leg and another sustained a graze wound to his head as a result of the shooting, police have confirmed.

Authorities closed a portion of I-225 on Sunday to collect more evidence related to the shooting. 

Investigators are still combing through witness statements, photos and videos to determine exactly how and why the driver of a blue Jeep tore through the throng of demonstrators moments before shots rang out shortly after 7 p.m. Traffic officers had blocked off entry to the northbound lanes of I-225 just south of the Alameda exit as the crowd swarmed the interstate, though investigators are still unsure how the Jeep driver ended up on the highway. 

Monday afternoon, protesters, including Candice Bailey, accused police of giving preferential treatment to the driver of the Jeep, allowing them to leave the area without arrest, after having sped through the crowd and then leave the scene of a minor collision with another car. She and others said the driver should be charged for endangering the lives of protesters on the highway.

It is unknown at this time if the Jeep was ahead of that blockade, but got stuck behind protesters or if he was able to drive past the protesters who had their own groups’ vehicles blocking the 225 entrance ramp from alameda,” Officer Matt Longshore, spokesman for the Aurora Police Department, wrote in an email. “Part of the investigation will be determining if the Jeep was stuck between our traffic units and the protesters (before they could close 225) or if the Jeep entered the interstate by driving around the protesters blockade.”

Protesters on Monday said they’re collecting evidence to substantiate their claims. Denver School Board member Tay Anderson, a frequent voice at Elijah McClain protests, chastised the media for focusing on vandalism caused by some protesters Saturday night after the bulk of that event broke up.

On Saturday, as chaos ensued while the Jeep sped through the crowd, the driver of a white pickup truck intentionally struck the Jeep in an attempt to stop that driver from hurting people, The Sentinel confirmed shortly after the incident. Protesters praised the truck driver in the moments after the Jeep careened onto the highway.

He was honored by protesters Monday during comments made at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in Aurora.

No one, including the Jeep driver, was arrested during the lengthy demonstration that wove through Aurora.

That was due to new police tactics employed during protests, Longshore said. Aurora police received international blowback for deploying pepper spray and foam rounds during a violin vigil for McClain, the 23-year-old Black man who died six days after police detained him on his way home from a north Aurora convenience store last August, on June 27. Officers also deployed foam rounds on protesters who shot fireworks at officers during another demonstration around a police station the morning of July 4.

Police used no chemical agents or munitions on Saturday, Longshore said. 

“There were no documented policy change(s) or orders,” he wrote in an email. “We were taking a hands off approach. We know now that the protesters who stayed late did not have peaceful demonstration in mind but instead that group wanted to cause destruction.”

Police first said that there were policy changes made before the protest, but later said that an email typo led to confusion. No such changes or orders were made.

Citing claims by protesters that police presence alone was the reason for escalation at the June 27 event, police purposefully didn’t engage with demonstrators on Saturday, according to Longshore.

“We were out of sight, and they took it upon themselves to tear down our fence while simultaneously breaking the windows on the courthouse,” he said on Monday. “So our presence alone was not the reason for their behavior.”

After organizers of the original event left Saturday evening, several people upended a recently erected fence in front of Aurora police headquarters, broke nearly two dozen windows on the local courthouse and launched fireworks into the building, at one point setting items in an office on fire. 

There’s no indication yet how much the protest damage will cost the city of Aurora. City spokesperson Michael Bryant said more than 20 windows were broken on the Aurora Municipal Center complex in addition to damaged signage and lighting, and no cost estimates have been made so far. 

The source of funding the repairs is still being discussed, too, he said. 

The fence that was broken down will also be replaced, Longshore said. The fence was installed in the days after the July 3 demonstration near the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. 

In a tweet, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman wrote that he plans to request a briefing from police brass explaining what occurred on Saturday. A debriefing was added to Monday’s special study session. Two days after the June 27 event, Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson presented a public powerpoint to Aurora City Council members explaining why officers deployed smoke canisters and pepper spray as violinists bowed solemn melodies. 

Coffman told the Sentinel he is expecting a briefing Monday afternoon. 

— Staff writers Kara Mason and Grant Stringer contributed to this report