GUEST COLUMNIST: Coffman should resign after his mishandling of Elijah McClain case

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Mike Coffman’s repeated failures in the outrageous case of Elijah McClain shows that he is remarkably unfit to lead Aurora in a time of national crisis and unrest, and he must resign.

Let’s review the facts.

Summer 2019: Coffman ran for mayor on an economic-growth platform and said that “violent crime” needed to be controlled. He called for increased funding for public safety. That includes the police.

August 9, 2019: Coffman received endorsements from the Aurora Fraternal Order of Police, and after receiving the endorsement said, “I will always back Aurora’s police officers.” The Aurora FOP president, Marc Sears, had been reinstated in 2011 after 2 (!) DUI charges. On its website, the Aurora FOP has a huge photo of its smiling (all-white) members posing with President Donald Trump in the White House. In case you forgot, Trump is the guy who called for police to “rough up” suspects. You know, like Elijah McClain.

August 24, 2019: Aurora Police responded to a call about a “suspicious person” wearing a mask and waving his hands on East Colfax. By now, anybody who knows anything about this incident knows what came next: Elijah McClain, who was unarmed and had not committed a crime, was violently restrained by several officers and put into carotid chokehold. He said “I Can’t Breathe…” Paramedics arrived on the scene and administered ketamine (involuntarily) to McClain as a sedative. McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died on Aug. 30.

Coffman, darling of local police, did not call for any kind of justice for McClain whatsoever on his campaign trail.

November 14, 2019: In the mayoral election—one wracked with vote-counting controversy—Coffman narrowly defeated Omar Montgomery, a member of the local NAACP.

Do we honestly think Montgomery would have presided over a months-long delay in justice for a black man brutally killed by police?

When he was sworn in, Coffman declared his intent to “get to the bottom” of the McClain case.

November 22, 2019: Aurora Police decline to charge the officers involved in McClain’s death.  Coffman says nothing.

June 25, 2020: Coffman, along with several city council members (who should also resign), penned an editorial in the Aurora Sentinel that framed police officers as victims of “hateful rhetoric” who need “support”—as if they do not already enjoy the full support of the criminal justice system, city officials, and much of the public. Coffman and his co-writers did not mention McClain nor his family one time, despite the fact that they were victims of something far more brutal than “hateful rhetoric” and a phenomenon — police brutality — that is far more pervasive than Coffman thinks.

In the letter, Coffman called the Aurora PD “one of the best-trained in the nation.” Yes, I know they recently just killed a person for no reason, but let’s all suck it up and support the gleaming Aurora PD, whose recent roster included not only the officers who killed McClain but also an officer who was found passed-out drunk, on-duty in his squad car; a FOP president twice-convicted of DUI; and three officers who were fired for mocking McClain’s death at his memorial. Yes, this is an organization that clearly deserves support, patience, and understanding as it tries to worm its way out from under the boot of long-overdue public outrage.

June 27, 2020: Now that the case has gotten national attention, Coffman feels the need to speak. In an NPR interview, Coffman called McClain’s death “tragic” and “preventable” but, incredibly, went on to say that McClain’s “pre-existing condition” as a “fragile individual physically” may have contributed to his death.

Coffman’s statement was not just a gaffe—it was an indication that this societal moment is soaring over Coffman’s head, and he is just frantically reacting, piecemeal, to a situation he clearly and naively never saw coming and refuses to take a strong lead on.

More can be said, but it is not necessary. The facts above speak for themselves. Aurorans do not deserve a mayor who is this tone-deaf and slow to react in the face of an act of blatant injustice by the police. If Coffman actually cares about McClain, his family, the City of Aurora, police reform, or justice, he must admit his failure to meet this moment and step down immediately.

Nick Johnson is a historian and justice advocate living in Fort Collins. He is senior associate editor of the Colorado Encyclopedia