Police were wrong to stop a 23-year-old Black man without justification and place him in a chokehold, which preceded his injection with an improper dose of a sedative, according to an independent review commissioned by the city of Aurora, Colorado. These actions by police and paramedics ultimately led to the man’s cardiac arrest and death, the review found.
The man, Elijah McClain, went into a coma after the paramedics injected him with the sedative ketamine. He was taken off life support and died six days after the Aug. 24, 2019, incident.
“The report confirms what we have known all along: Aurora police and medics violated Elijah McClain’s civil rights, and Aurora did everything in its power to sweep his murder under the rug,” Mari Newman, an attorney for McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
In the same statement released by the attorney, Mosley 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.”
The local district attorney previously declined to bring any criminal charges against the first responders.
As he encountered the officers at 10:43 p.m., McClain was returning from a store where he’d purchased four cans of iced tea; a passerby who phoned 911 had reported a “sketchy” person in a ski mask waving his arms but who had no apparent weapon, the report states.
As an anemic, McClain often wore a ski mask, as his chronic condition usually made his face feel colder when he went on walks, according to his family. Authorities said a struggle ensued after officers approached and tried to detain the unarmed McClain, placing him in a chokehold and pinning him to the ground for 15 minutes.
While pinned, McClain told officers he was having difficulty breathing and started vomiting. Paramedics were summoned and, after apparently accepting “the officers’ impression that Mr. McClain had excited delirium without corroborating that impression through meaningful observation or diagnostic examination,” according to the review, they administered the ketamine.
But the 157-page report says a fire department lieutenant misjudged McClain’s 140-pound weight, injecting enough of the sedative for a 190-pound person.
McClain suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital. He died on Aug. 30, 2019.
Following an outcry on social media, both the City of Aurora and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office announced investigations. The incident also garnered a national audience as it coincided with the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta that were then fueling mass protests across the country over the use of police force against Black people.
The Aurora police administration initially defended the officers’ actions by pointing out that McClain was wearing a mask. In November 2019, the Adams County district attorney announced, “The evidence does not support the filing of any state criminal charges against the involved officers for the unfortunate and tragic death of Mr. McClain.”
Last June, Aurora authorities announced a ban on the use of chokeholds by its officers.
The Aurora City Council commissioned the independent review last July. Among its findings, the report concluded that detectives later assigned to scrutinize the incident in its aftermath “failed to meaningfully investigate” it.
“The body worn camera audio, limited video, and Major Crimes’ interviews with the officers tell two contrasting stories,” the report states. “The officers’ statements on the scene and in subsequent recorded interviews suggest a violent and relentless struggle. The limited video, and the audio from the body worn cameras, reveal Mr. McClain surrounded by officers, all larger than he, crying out in pain, apologizing, explaining himself, and pleading with the officers.”
“It is hard to imagine any other persons involved in a fatal incident being interviewed as these officers were,” the report states.
After the report was made public on Monday, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman thanked the independent panel that produced it and said McClain’s death “remains a wound” in the city, reports the Denver Post.
“We cannot move forward as a city unless we understand the problems that we have,” he said.
McClain’s parents sued the City of Aurora in August, alleging excessive force, failure to provide medical care and negligence in the death of their son. The federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit accuses the Aurora Police Department of “persistently” brutalizing people of color and Black people at “a rate significantly greater than their proportion in the Aurora community.”