Aurora lawmakers consider permanent choke-hold ban, city budget cuts

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COVID-19 advisory signage hangs to the entrance of a storefront in Aurora, March 24, 2020. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Members of the Aurora City Council on Monday will hear options on balancing the city’ beleaguered budget, along with a measure to codify a chokehold ban.

The city’s reliance on sales tax revenue, which has been significantly slashed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has created an estimated $25 million shortfall so far. City documents point to similar shortfalls over the next four years: Nearly $31 million in 2021, $24.5 million in 2022, $23 million in 2023 and $23.5 million in 2024.

Meeting notes for the group’s study session don’t outline options in budget balancing measures the city may take, but the pandemic has already furloughed 576 temporary, contingent and seasonal employees.  By law, the city must adopt a balanced budget and cannot operate with a deficit.

“Our employees are at the core of our mission to serve our residents, and it was a very difficult decision to have to resort to any measures that directly impact them,” Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said in a statement in April. 

Thousands gathered, June 27, 2020 at the Aurora Municipal Complex, to protest and pay tribute to Elijah McClain, who died last year after an encounter with three officers from the Aurora Police Department.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Lawmakers will also consider moving a proposed ordinance forward that bans carotid control holds. Twombly mandated a new policy doing so last month, but this ordinance would add it to city code, and thus would be much harder to reverse. 

Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson has supported banning the maneuver.

“While we appreciate her moving on this, we feel it is important to codify these bans so they cannot be rolled back by a change in department leadership and so that our community knows where council stands on the matter,” said Councilperson Juan Marcano, who introduced the ordinance with Councilperson Angela Lawson to the city’s public safety committee last month.

The use of the carotid control hold in the city received heightened scrutiny after officers applied the technique last summer to Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old unarmed black man who died days after he was stopped by officers on his way home from a north Aurora convenience store.

Last week, officers mocking the hold resulted in international reproof as Wilson and others lambasted the officers, ousting three of them, prompting another wave of protests.

A newly-passed state law, created by Senate Bill 217, disallows use of chokeholds and carotid control holds. The difference between the state law, which is awaiting the governor’s signature, and the city proposal are the potential consequences an officer could face, said Deputy City Attorney Nancy Rodgers. At the state level, those holds are now considered unlawful and could be held as excessive force.

At the city level, a violation of the ordinance would likely lead to disciplinary measures or termination.

Staff Reporter Quincy Snowdon contributed to this report