23 June 2020 18:38
The tragedy that befell Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man who died after a torturous August 2019 encounter with Aurora police officers despite being unarmed and having committed no crime (a 911 caller reported him after he was seen dancing to music while wearing a ski mask), is every bit as shocking as the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. The body cameras of the cops involved all somehow got dislodged — a supposed coincidence that attorney Mari Newman, who represents McClain's family and is currently assembling a civil-rights lawsuit on their behalf, believes was a purposeful effort to disguise their excessive and ultimately lethal force. Nonetheless, a growing number of folks across the country are belatedly learning about the McClain case thanks to a confluence of factors related to the ongoing protests over the Floyd homicide. At this writing, the petition has collected just shy of 1.8 million signatures — an enormous number that should further change the dynamic related to Aurora's handling of the matter. But earlier this month, officials dumped a supposedly independent investigator who most observers predicted would try to explain away what happened and are searching for a new person to analyze the circumstances leading to McClain's wholly unnecessary passing.
Meanwhile, McClain's story is expected to be a major topic at a virtual town hall involving four candidates for Aurora police chief scheduled for this evening (get details below). Awareness of McClain's terrible fate has been growing among participants in the ongoing downtown Denver rallies that followed Floyd's death, prompting a slew of local events, including a weekend skate jam and fundraiser sponsored by Chain Reaction Records. McClain has also frequently been name-checked by Representative Leslie Herod, prime sponsor of the Law Enforcement Integrity and Accountability Act, recently signed by Colorado Governor Jared Polis. As a result, major media organizations are finally catching up, as evidenced by the June 20 New York Times article "After George Floyd, Fresh Scrutiny of Old Cases," led by coverage of McClain. Shortly after publication, McClain's name began popping up regularly on social media alongside those of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and many other African-Americans killed by police.
In this environment, Aurora can no longer hope that anger over McClain will simply fade away — hence this announcement on the city's website: "Prompted by the members of the city's Public Safety, Courts & Civil Service Policy Committee — Council Members Allison Hiltz, Curtis Gardner and Angela Lawson — the City Manager is working with members of the Aurora City Council and the Mayor to initiate a new independent, external investigation of the actions of our police, firefighters and paramedics in the Elijah McClain case. The virtual town hall for Aurora police chief finalists will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. tonight, June 23, and will be accessible online and via Comcast channels 8/880 in Aurora. In addition, AuroraTV.org will live-stream finalists' conversations with business, legal and education leaders at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, June 24, with community-partner organization chats airing at 4:30 p.m. and community-police task force exchanges accessible at 6:30 p.m. that same day. AURORA | Aurora-area law enforcement agencies are receiving a renewed flood of calls and emails asking officials to further examine the death of Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old, unarmed black man who died days after Aurora first responders detained him while he was walking home from a convenience store last summer. The office of 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young, which cleared the officers involved in detaining McClain of any wrongdoing, has received more than 10,000 emails and 1,000 voicemails regarding the McClain case since June 7, according to spokesperson Sue Lindsay. The office had received only two emails pertaining to the McClain case in the previous six months. Lindsay said many of the emails are an identical, widely disseminated form letter asking for Young's office to further investigate and ultimately prosecute the officers involved. Young has said he does not plan to re-examine the case pending the discovery of new evidence. An Aurora City Council committee is insisting on a new independent investigation, which itself drew controversy after it was disclosed the city had hired a firm run by a former police officer to review the case. As of last week, Aurora police had received more than 200 complaints regarding the McClain case, including more than 120 phone calls, department leaders said at a public meeting Thursday. Officials categorized the complaints as comments on officers' use of strangleholds and carotid control holds, the recently outlawed maneuver police used on McClain. The department had received a total of four complaints regarding the use of chokeholds, strangleholds and carotid holds in the previous four years combined. The public outrage has also trickled into the local police department's social media pages, where a flurry of recent posts have linked to McClain's name and petitions calling for new investigations. More than 1.8 million people had signed a Change.org petition calling for a new investigation into McClain's death as of Tuesday morning. City staffers, too, have noticed an increase in McClain-related messages on recent social media posts, according to Michael Bryant, spokesman for the City of Aurora. "I know we've been receiving more comments on our social media as well as calls to Access Aurora and the Mayor/Council Office over the past few weeks," Bryant wrote in an email. He said the number of messages received via phone, email and social media have totaled "in the thousands." Office personnel for Aurora Fire Rescue have also noted an increase in messages related to the McClain case in recent weeks, according to department spokesperson Sherri-Jo Stowell. She said the department started tracking the number of messages related to McClain that were coming into the office after noticing an uptick in such communications about three weeks ago. Since then, the office has received about 30 messages, the bulk of which call for the first responders who interacted with McClain to be fired and prosecuted. Aurora Fire paramedics injected McClain with ketamine while police personnel held him on the ground the evening of Aug. 24, 2019. Even the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office, which oversees the bulk of Aurora south of East Colfax Avenue, has recently been receiving several communications a day regarding the McClain case, according to a spokesperson for the office. The Arapahoe County Jurisdiction did not handle the McClain case in any way. The spokesperson confirmed the office refers callers to Young's office, which was the agency that legally examined the case. "Our jurisdiction covers more than 80% of Aurora, but Elijah McClain's death occurred in Adams County," DA George Brauchler's office tweeted on June 19. Calls to re-examine McClain's death have proliferated in recent weeks in the wake of mass protests that have become ubiquitous across the country following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police. The renewed interest in McClain's death led a New York Times story published last week that explores the enhanced interest in old, lethal interactions between minorities and police.