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

3253

AURORA | A sometimes profane group of chanting protestors urging justice for Elijah McClain forced Aurora City Council members off the dais Monday after refusing to leave the chamber. 

In reaction, city lawmakers later agreed by a 6-4 vote to suspend any public comment at the Nov. 18 meeting if protesters return and persist.

“I hate to say that, but based on this evening I don’t know what the solution is,” Mayor Bob LeGare told council members, describing the meeting as “unprecedented” in nearly 36 years of tuning into Aurora City Council.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The video of the Nov. 4 city council meeting contains profanity.

After losing control of the meeting on Monday, LeGare first recessed the meeting briefly. After further interruption, he moved the meeting entirely to another room.

Twenty-eight people were signed up to speak at Monday’s meeting during a segment dedicated for the public to speak on any matter not on the night’s meeting agenda. Most planned to speak about the death of 23-year-old McClain, which occurred in August after an interaction with Aurora police. Those who didn’t plan on speaking about McClain ended up calling for justice for anyway.

Some protesters called LeGare “f***boy” from the lectern or shouted that and other profanities from the audience. Someone brought a decorated cake to the meeting that was inscribed, “Bye Mayor F-boy.”

LeGare is not running for re-election, and his last meeting is slated for Nov. 18, after the Nov. 5 election.

A cake brought to the Nov. 4 Aurora City Council meeting inscribed with suggested profanity, mocking Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare. PHOTO BY KARA MASON, THE SENTINEL

During Monday’s meeting council members were unable to hear LeGare as he tried to conduct the meeting through the rally. People chanted, “we have nothing to lose but our chains” and “Elijah McClain, say his name.”

Many speakers demanded the release of police body camera footage and audio in the McClain case to be released to the public. It hasn’t yet, as police say the investigation is still open, and they have been instructed by district attorneys to share few details. Those speaking at the meeting also called for holding police officers involved in the incident accountable for McClain’s death.

After 16 speakers, the crowd started chanting, prompting LeGare to recess the meeting.

LeGare then asked everybody to exit the chamber and would allow individuals to return when it was their turn to speak. Nobody left.

During the recess, members of the nearly 50 people sitting in the chamber decided to hold their own community meeting. One audience member saying it was the best council meeting she’d ever attended.

Council members Nicole Johnston, Crystal Murillo and Allison Hiltz sat among the crowd. Council member Angela Lawson remained in her seat at the dais, while the other members left the room.

Each of the speakers that signed up was able to deliver their comments, but LeGare suspended the rule that each speaker gets three minutes. He shortened that to two minutes for the final 12 speakers. LeGare said the leftover one minute could be used for crowd reaction.

After public comment segment ended, disruptions continued and LeGare moved the meeting to a nearby conference room, where council members voted by raising their hands. Audio of the meeting was relayed to the main council chamber.

It’s unclear how the council might handle similar disruptions in the future, but LeGare said he’s open to moving the meeting and ending public comment if disturbances become distracting.No one was removed from the chamber by police, who were present at the meeting.

“I do not want our police to be put in the position to be hands-on,” council member Nicole Johnston said of next meeting. “If there’s a way we can prevent that, that’d be good.”

Johnston, who said last week that she plans to move forward on a police review structure, suggested a public meeting be organized before Nov. 18, so that the community has a chance to talk about police accountability before the next meeting. 

The councilwoman told the Sentinel last week public meetings, one in November, was a part of the process she’d follow in investigating a review structure.

“People are frustrated because this is their only time to talk about this,” she said of Monday night’s events.

During the meeting, council members approved the final year of a five-year contract with Seattle-based Vievu for a total of $286,899 for the body cameras. Acting police chief Paul O’Keefe said the city would reexamine a body camera contract in 2020, and a part of that conversation would be how to better keep the cameras on officers.

Several people cited concerns about police body cameras during a town hall meeting on Saturday. They said the cameras seem to be shoved aside or thrown from officers during incidents. 

At a recent press conference, O’Keefe said it is not uncommon for the cameras to fall off during encounters with residents.

Council members also approved a 10-month moratorium on hemp cultivations.