Second tweak to investigation order of Elijah McClain’s death is a clarification, Polis says

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AURORA | This week Gov. Jared Polis made another tweak to the scope of Attorney General Phil Weiser’s investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, but the order still omits language originally included in the executive order that activists say is key to holding police accountable.

Polis’s revisions Wednesday are his second tweak to the executive order outlining Weiser’s investigation. Under orders from the governor, Weiser’s office has been scrutinizing Aurora first responders’ infamous interaction with McClain, which lead to his death. It’s one of few investigations carrying activists’ hopes of murder charges against police officers and Aurora Fire Rescue responders who subdued the 23-year-old Black Auroran in 2019. 

Activists eager to see tough charges have drawn attention to Polis’ changes — especially last month, when Polis removed a section of his executive order allowing Weiser to prosecute law enforcement officers who “caused the death of Elijah McClain.”

That line is is still missing from Polis’ order.

On Wednesday, Polis made minor changes to the executive order. Weiser will have leeway to investigate first responders for possible “criminal offenses” related to subduing McClain. 

The latest draft closely resembles changes made last month, when Polis ordered investigations into “offenses” — not necessarily criminal — related to McClain’s interaction with first responders. Then, the Attorney General’s office declined to explain the changes. 

The section now reads: “I appoint Phil Weiser, Attorney General for the State of Colorado, or his duly authorized successor, to be the State’s prosecutor and direct him to take all
necessary actions to investigate, on behalf of the State of Colorado, offenses,
including criminal offenses, arising from the August 24, 2019 encounter with
Elijah McClain and/or his subsequent death, and, if deemed necessary, prosecute
any persons, including law enforcement or any other individual, for such offenses.”

After Polis’ changes in November, the Denver branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation cried foul, arguing the revision was a signal that officials were preparing to throw “watered-down” charges short of murder at Aurora first responders.

Polis said Wednesday in a statement the changes had been “taken by some in the wrong way and were hurtful to others, which was far from the intent.” The executive order seeks to “clarify” those changes.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation called the move “a symbolic demonstration of good will,” in a statement.

We will not settle merely for symbolic justice. We demand murder charges for Jason Rosenblatt, Nathan Woodyard, and Randy Roedema—nothing less. Our eyes are still on Polis and AG Weiser,” the activists said, naming the three cops who stopped McClain.

Polis said his revisions had actually broadened the scope of Weiser’s investigation. Legal experts told the Sentinel last month that was probably true. Weiser’s team would be able to charge first responders for civil rights violations and lesser charges without having to prove anyone had caused McClain’s death, they said.

Candice Bailey, an activist leader and a member of Aurora’s Community Police Task Force, said Polis’ tweaks were an example of “semantics” in racial justice issues. She said Polis needs to denounce “white supremacy” and the “murder” of McClain and hold the officers accountable.

Polis originally ordered the state inquiry in June as McClain’s name became a national rallying cry for racial justice.

In Aug. 2019, Aurora police officers placed him in a now-banned control hold that briefly made him faint, and Aurora Fire Rescue responders injected him with an excessive dose of ketamine. He went into cardiac arrest and was taken off of life support at a local hospital six days later.

Read more about the investigations into McClain’s death here.

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