Elijah McClain: Colorado reopens probe into death of 23-year-old black man who died due to police chokehold
Colorado Governor Jared Polis said he signed an executive order to appoint a special prosecutor to 'determine whether the facts justify criminal charges against members of law enforcement'
AURORA, COLORADO: Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced he is reopening the investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man who died after he was placed in a chokehold by officers and then sedated with ketamine.
Polis announced this past Thursday, June 25, that he signed an executive order to appoint a special prosecutor to "determine whether the facts justify criminal charges against members of law enforcement."
"Today I signed an Executive Order designating Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate and, if the facts support prosecution, criminally prosecute any individuals whose actions caused the death of Elijah McClain," he wrote on Twitter.
In a statement attached to the tweet, Polis said he made the decision after speaking to McClain's mother and was moved by her "description of her son as a responsible and curious child who became a vegetarian to be healthier, and who could inspire the darkest soul."
McClain, described by friends as a "gentle peacemaker" who worked as a massage therapist and enjoyed playing the violin, died in police custody last year after he was confronted by three officers from the Aurora Police Department for being "suspicious" as he bought iced tea,
Officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema had been dispatched to the store after they received a 911 call at 10:30 pm on August 24, 2019, about a "sketchy" person who was wearing a ski mask and dancing to music, reported ABC News.
The caller said the man "might be a good person or a bad person" but that he did not have any weapons on him at the time. When asked if anyone else was in danger, the caller replied in the negative.
That man, later identified as McClain, had just bought iced tea from a convenience store and was listening to music on his headphones as he walked back home. Police bodycam footage shows Woodyard, Rosenblatt, and Roedema approaching the 23-year-old to stop him, with one of the officers placing his hands on him and asking him to "stop tensing up."
McClain protests and can be heard saying, "You guys started to arrest me and I was stopping my music to listen." When one of the officers tries to move him to a nearby grassy area, McClain appears to resist and is tackled to the ground, where he's placed on a carotid control hold.
As the officer continues to hold him in the chokehold, McClain vomits repeatedly and begs, "I can't breathe," with medics from the Aurora Fire Department claiming he was suffering from "excited delirium" and administering ketamine to calm him down.
He was subsequently placed in an ambulance but suffered a cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and was declared brain dead. He was taken off life support a little under a week later.
Colorado District Attorney Dave Young determined there was no wrongdoing by the officers in McClain's death and recently defended his decision to not prosecute them by pointing to the autopsy report.
"Ultimately, while I may share the vast public opinion that Elijah McClain's death could have been avoided, it is not my role to file criminal charges based on opinion," he told the Denver Post in a statement. "The forensic evidence revealed that the cause of death was undetermined."
While an initial autopsy did determine that the cause of McClain's death was "undetermined," it also listed other contributing factors such as intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery. The coroner had also found there was a "therapeutic" level of Ketamine in the 23-year-old's body.
The case was brought back into the national spotlight following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, with close to four million signing a petition calling for the three Aurora police officers to be brought to justice.
"Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern," Polis said. "Now more than ever, we must do everything in our power to foster public trust and confidence in law enforcement and the criminal justice system".