How was Elijah McClain's death investigation flawed? Independent probe slams Aurora police, medics' 'mistakes'
McClain's father, LaWayne Mosley, in his statement, said: 'This report confirms what we have been saying from the start. The Aurora police and medics who murdered my son must be held accountable'
Justice for Elijah McClain, though delayed, might finally come. The details surrounding his death have been reexamined by an independent panel, which has found several legal and medical errors made during his arrest, finding fault with both Aurora city police and medics attending the case. Back in August 24, 2019, McClain, a 23-year-old Black man was walking home from a convenience store in Aurora, Colorado, when someone called 911, saying he “looked sketchy” because he was wearing a ski mask and waving his arms.
The police arrived and after struggling to handcuff McClain, officers brought him to the ground and used a "carotid hold", which restricts blood to the brain to render someone unconscious. When medical responders arrived, after about 15 minutes, paramedics injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative. McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to a hospital and died a few days later. His family said McClain wore the mask because he had a blood condition that caused him to get cold easily.
Since his death, the carotid hold has been banned. However, the autopsy report by the Adams County coroner and consequent police investigation said that the cause of death was “undetermined”. No charges were brought against the officers because District Attorney Dave Young wrote in a June 2020 letter that prosecutors lacked evidence to prove the officers caused McClain's death or that their force was unjustified. One of three officers was fired for his reaction to a text message about the case. The other two are still with Aurora police.
How was the death investigation flawed?
The report by a panel of medical and legal experts appointed by the City Council has pointed out the series of mistakes made by the Aurora police and the paramedics. The independent report detailed the flaws in the original investigation. According to it, the police had no justification to stop or use force to detain McClain. They also said the responding paramedics sedated him with ketamine "without conducting anything more than a brief visual observation".
The initial stop of McClain was questionable, as "none of the officers articulated a crime that they thought Mr. McClain had committed, was committing or was about to commit," the report found. "This decision had ramifications for the rest of the encounter," according to findings.
The carotid hold was used during the confrontation and McClain was injected with ketamine, because the officers believed he was in a state of excited delirium and posed a threat. "Based on the record available to the panel, we were not able to identify sufficient evidence that Mr. McClain was armed and dangerous in order to justify a pat-down search," the report said.
It added: "The panel also notes that one officer's explanation that that Aurora officers are trained to 'take action before it escalates' does not meet the constitutional requirement of reasonable suspicion to conduct (a stop or frisk)."
The report also blamed the paramedics for taking the officers at their word, rather than independently examine McClain. At 5-foot-7 inches, McClain weighed 140 pounds. However, he received a dose of ketamine that would have been proper for a man weighing 190 pounds, according to the panel's findings. "Aurora Fire appears to have accepted the officers' impression that Mr. McClain had excited delirium without corroborating that impression through meaningful observations or diagnostic examination of Mr. McClain," the report said.
"In addition, EMS administered a ketamine dosage based on a grossly inaccurate and inflated estimate of Mr. McClain's size. Higher doses can carry a higher risk of sedation complications, for which this team was clearly not prepared." McClain lost consciousness and was taken off life support on August 30. The report, however, stopped short of blaming "implicit bias" for McClain's death.
Elijah McClain's parents say Aurora police and medics have to be held accountable
Sheneen McClain, Elijah's mother, cried after reading the report. "It was overwhelming knowing my son was innocent the entire time and just waiting on the facts and proof of it," Sheneen McClain told the press. "My son's name is cleared now. He's no longer labeled a suspect. He is actually a victim." The attorneys for Sheneen also released a statement praising the investigative report while criticizing the police department's "sham investigation." The attorneys said: "Aurora is responsible for Elijah's tragic death by virtue of its employees' unlawful and unconscionable actions".
In a separate statement, Sheneen said "Elijah believed in humanity and that humanity mattered. Inhumane humans are a problem and we must stop unjust laws." McClain's father, LaWayne Mosley, in his statement, said: "This report confirms what we have been saying from the start. The Aurora police and medics who murdered my son must be held accountable."