Aurora Mayor Coffman suggests moving Elijah McClain protest tactics to closed meetings

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AURORA | Concerned their presence would incite more violence and chaos, Aurora police stayed out of sight during a destructive protest over the weekend, according to city staff. 

It was a different scene from the protests a month earlier where Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said her officers attempted to form a line between agitators and a peaceful violin vigil honoring Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old Black man that was killed after an encounter with Aurora police 11 months ago. 

The optics of that response were not well received.

“I’m not convinced we’re doing the right thing right now,” Councilperson Juan Marcano said regarding the June 17 protest as tensions between protestors and police slowly amped up that day. “Especially the agitators, they need a target. And if you have two rows of folks out here in turtle gear, that’s the target.”

Addressing council members after that event, Wilson said communications with numerous peaceful protestors, who were quickly caught up in police actions as officers swept the crowd from the lawn into the parking lot amid a cacophony of violin music, could have been better.

How police will respond to the next protest will be decided in private, likely during an executive session, council members said.

Mayor Mike Coffman said the ongoing security issue rises to the level of being discussed behind closed doors.

“Tactics, or strategy, is a sensitive issue,” Coffman said, only revealing that the approach will have to balance protecting property and showing force.

Over the weekend Coffman said on social media he fears the protesters that shattered 23 windows at the Aurora Municipal City Court building, destroyed lights and signs and caused a minor fire in the building with fireworks now “smell weakness” and will return until “they achieve their goal.”

Jason Batchelor, deputy city manager, gave the briefing to council members. Police department leaders weren’t present because of an officer-involved shooting that sent two officers to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. 

Many aspects of Saturday’s events are still being investigated, including how a turquoise Jeep Rubicon was able to access Interstate 225 and speed toward protesters before crashing into a pickup truck. During that event, one protester pulled a gun and shot another protester in the leg. A bullet grazed another protester’s head.

Police tweeted locations and traffic information about the protesters throughout the afternoon and evening, although a clear plan of the day’s events was never presented to the city, according to Batchelor.

“They did not reach out, and even if they did we’d have to be very suspect of what they provided,” Batchelor said. “They have deliberately misled the public and the city in the past.”

Batchelor was referencing a July 3 protest in which a group of protesters “occupied” the police department’s first district on Wheeling Street, trapping officers inside for hours. Some protesters implied the were marching from north Aurora back to city hall. They didn’t and instead marched to Anschutz. ambushing a police station.

An organizer, who only identified himself as Joel, told the Sentinel then that the group purposefully skewed their Facebook post in an effort to throw police off their trail.

“That was a part of the plan,” Joel said.

Like in his social media posts, Coffman said during Monday’s special study session there seems to be a trend of violent agitators infiltrating the groups of mostly peaceful protesters in Aurora.

When asked about why police didn’t respond to the destruction of the court building on Saturday night, Batchelor said, “that all happened very quickly” and police were able to secure the building.

Without any confrontation with police, the remaining 150 protesters briefly blocked traffic on East Alameda Parkway before returning to their cars and leaving.

Coffman said he is concerned that another protest, maybe in late August, will become even more destructive.