AURORA | Attorneys representing the estate of Elijah McClain on Tuesday filed suit in federal court against the City of Aurora and a host of first responders, alleging that the Aurora police and fire personnel who interacted with McClain on Aug. 24, 2019 violated his constitutional rights and negligently caused his death.
In a 106-page complaint, a trio of attorneys from the Denver law firm Killmer, Lane and Newman detail McClain’s encounter with Aurora police officers and Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics as he walked home from a local convenience store along the 1900 block of Billings Street nearly one year ago.
“Elijah was listening to music, enjoying the short walk home from the corner store with some iced tea when Aurora police officers grabbed, tackled, and assaulted him,” the document filed in U.S. District Court reads.
More than 10 pages of the complaint outline a smattering of previously controversial cases in Aurora that McClain’s attorneys claim establish the city’s police force as racist.
“It is the longstanding, widespread, and deliberately indifferent custom, habit, practice, and/or policy of Aurora to encourage or tolerate law enforcement officers to use race and race-based animus as motivating factors in police decisions and actions, as well as to fail to supervise and train APD officers in the rights of individuals to be free from such race-based decision making in law enforcement,” the complaint reads. “This custom, policy, and/or practice has led to Aurora police officers, on a regular basis, using elevated and unjustified levels of force against Black people.”
The plaintiffs, listed as McClain’s estate as well as his mother and father, go on to allege that officers use force against Black residents at a higher rate than whites. A recent analysis of Aurora police data published in The Denver Post corroborates those claims.
“We have filed this civil rights lawsuit to demand justice for Elijah McClain, to hold accountable the Aurora officials, police officers, and paramedics responsible for his murder, and to force the City of Aurora to change it longstanding pattern of brutal and racist policing,” the McClain family’s attorney, Mari Neman, said in a statement.
Newman and her firm have represented numerous Aurora residents in cases where police brutality has been alleged. Last month, she filed a separate class action lawsuit claiming Aurora police filed protesters’ constitutional rights at a June 27 demonstration outside of city hall.
Though none of the officers or paramedics who detained McClain last summer ever faced criminal charges, one of the officers, Jason Rosenblatt, was eventually fired from the department after it was discovered that he received a photo mocking McClain’s death.
The trio of officers who took the photo, which reenacted the now-banned chokehold used on McClain, are no longer on the force after one quit and two others were fired. The two officers who were fired and are now appealing their terminations, Kyle Dittrich and Erica Marrero, are named as defendants in the suit.
Calls to terminate the two other officers who personally detained McClain, Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema have reverberated through online petitions and protests across the world in recent months.
Such calls have also been directed at the Aurora Fire Paramedic Jeremy Cooper, who injected McClain with 500 milligrams of ketamine as he was pinned to the ground. Cooper is one of three Aurora Fire staffers named in the new complaint.
“Elijah weighed 65 kilograms (143 pounds); at that weight, per the AFR protocol and generally accepted standards of care in the medical community, the appropriate dosage for a person actually experiencing excited delirium (which Elijah clearly was not) would have been 325 milligrams,” the attorneys wrote. “The paramedic from the private ambulance company later reported that defendant Cooper failed to discuss Elijah’s weight and the appropriate weight-based dosage of ketamine for Elijah when requesting the dose of 500 milligrams.”
The plaintiffs have requested a federal jury trial to address the claims made in the complaint. They have also requested unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as economic relief for lost wages, funeral costs and attorney’s fees.
A spokesperson for the city said officials have to formally receive the suit.
“The city hasn’t been officially served with the lawsuit yet nor had time to review it,” City Spokesperson Julie Patterson wrote in an email. “So we do not have any information to share at this time.”
Additional demonstrations for McClain are scheduled around the anniversary of his death later this month. An event called “Elijah’s walk home” is set to take place at 6 p.m. Aug. 23. McClain died on Aug. 30, 2019. He was 23 years old.
Nearly 3,000 people have already pledged to attend the upcoming event on Facebook.