AURORA | A cascade of calls to reinvestigate the death of Elijah McClain spattered social media Wednesday after a steady flood of missives — tens of thousands of them — from across the country bombarded state and local leaders’ inboxes.
A new investigation is set to happen, but the details are still being ironed out, now with the Aurora mayor, city council public safety committee and governor all eyeing different avenues for the independent review.
Gov. Jared Polis tweeted Wednesday he would look at intervening in the case. “I am hearing from many Coloradans who have expressed concerns with the investigation of Elijah McClain’s death. As a result, I have instructed my legal council to examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps,” he said in the post.
Polis could order the Colorado Attorney General’s office to pick up the case. 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young, who cleared the three police officers who detained McClain of any wrongdoing in November, said he will not reopen the case unless new evidence is presented.
It’s still unclear what steps Polis may take in the coming days and weeks. Local Aurora lawmakers had already been planning a renewed independent investigation after nixing a contract with a Connecticut-based attorney and former police officer who was hired to further examine the events that led to and followed the death of 23-year-old McClain last summer.
McClain died about a week after a trio of Aurora police officers stopped him in the 1900 block of Billings Street while he was walking home from a nearby convenience store. A person named Juan had called 911 and described McClain as “sketchy” because he was wearing a mask.
The interaction between officers and McClain quickly grew violent and ended in an officer placing McClain in a carotid control hold, a recently outlawed maneuver that cut off blood flow to McClain’s brain and caused him to briefly faint. He repeatedly vomited before paramedics with Aurora Fire Rescue injected him with ketamine and loaded him into an ambulance, where he went into cardiac arrest en route to a nearby hospital. He never regained consciousness. Life support was discontinued after he was declared to be brain dead.
Calls to further investigate McClain’s death were frequent in the months after his death last August, but have exponentially mushroomed following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky this spring.
Members of the Aurora City Council public safety committee — Allison Hiltz, Curtis Gardner and Angela Lawson — asked city manager Jim Twombly to terminate the contract with the previous investigator tasked with looking into McClain’s death, Eric Daigle, June 11. The same group of city lawmakers then announced early Wednesday afternoon that the body was preparing to discuss investigator recommendations at its July 16 meeting.
“At the conclusion of that meeting, we’d like for your final recommendation to be on the agenda for the next regular meeting of the Aurora City Council for a formal vote,” the trio of lawmakers wrote to Twombly in a letter.
A few hours later, that timeline was scrambled by Mayor Mike Coffman, who said he was calling a for a vote on July 6, where all council members would take formal action on whether to move forward with a third-party investigation, although city rules don’t require a council vote for such an investigation. There was no vote when Twombly announced former U.S. Attorney John Walsh would review an incident involving an intoxicated Aurora police officer last year.
Coffman told the Sentinel he feels the scope of the investigation should be discussed by the full city council and voted upon. If the triad of city council members want to discuss the investigation in a public safety meeting setting, Coffman suggested Hiltz, the committee chairperson, should call a special meeting as he has of the city council.
While council members on the public safety committee said staff seemed comfortable with their timeline of presenting recommendations on July 16, Coffman said he’s confident that city management, working with the public safety committee, could be ready to bring forth investigation recommendations to the full council by the next meeting on July 20.
Coffman said he was set to announce his new timeline on discussing the investigation when Polis called him around 2 p.m. Wednesday about the statement he was about to release.
The two leaders didn’t make any formal agreement about how the state would become involved.
Those details may come later, and could potentially include the attorney general’s office looking at whether any new evidence comes to light. That could allow charges to be made against the officers.
“The governor and I left it at that we seem to be in agreement that whatever the attorney general does will be complementary to the actions that the city takes,” Coffman said. “I welcome that.”
Full Aurora Police body cam video: