Colorado Officials to Examine Elijah McClain's Death in Police Custody

Colorado's governor has announced plans to examine the case of Elijah McClain—a 23-year-old Black man who died in police custody last year—after more than 2.5 million people signed a petition demanding an investigation into his death.

Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, announced the decision in a series of tweets on Wednesday, writing: "Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever. A fair and objective process free from real or perceived bias for investigating officer-involved killings is critical."

"I am hearing from many Coloradans who have expressed concerns with the investigation of Elijah McClain's death," Polis said. "As a result, I have instructed my legal council to examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps."

Polis' announcement came after a petition published on Change.org calling for a "more in-depth investigation" into McClain's death, as well as for the police officers involved in his death to be taken off duty, gathered more than 2 million signatures.

McClain died following an encounter police on August 24 last year, which saw three white officers with the Aurora Police Department approach him after 911 dispatchers received a call about a "suspicious person."

McClain had been walking home from a local convenience store after purchasing some tea. He was wearing a ski mask, which his family has said he liked to wear to keep his face warm, as he was anemic.

The 911 caller told police that he had spotted McClain with "a mask on" and was concerned. However, the caller said "he might be a good person or a bad person" and asserted that no weapons were involved. Asked if he or anyone else was in danger, the caller said "no," according to a report from ABC 7.

In police body camera footage an officer responding to the call can be seen approaching McClain as he walks down the street.

McClain can be heard saying "I have a right..." as he continues walking while a police officer order him to stop. "I have a right to stop you because you're being suspicious," the officer says.

The officer then appears to put his hands on McClain as the 23-year-old calls for him to "let go of me."

At one point, McClain explains that he was trying to go home. He also accuses officers of starting to arrest him when he was trying to stop his music so he could hear what they were saying.

When officers try to move McClain to a grassy area, a struggle appears to ensue, with one officer at one point shouting that the 23-year-old had tried to reach for another officer's gun. Later, however, the officer whose gun McClain is alleged to have reached for can reportedly be heard saying that he did not feel McClain attempt to grab his firearm.

At one point during the incident an officer told McClain: "If you keep messing around, I'm going to bring my dog out and he's going to dog bite you."

During the encounter, officers used a carotid control hold on the 23-year-old, with the move getting its name from the fact that it involves placing an arm around someone's neck and restricting the flow of blood to their brain from the carotid arteries.

Paramedics with the Aurora Fire Department were called to the scene, as per department policy after the use of a carotid control hold. By the time they arrived, McClain had shown signs that he was not well, vomiting at one point.

Paramedics administered a dose of ketamine to the 23-year-old in an apparent effort to sedate him, despite McClain being restrained on the ground.

When he was moved into an ambulance, the 23-year-old suffered from cardiac arrest, according to police. He was transported to hospital and regained consciousness following the incident, but died several days later.

In November 2019, the Adams County coroner ruled that the cause of McClain's death was "undetermined." The autopsy, which was obtained by ABC News, listed a number of contributing factors, including "intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery."

In the wake of George Floyd's death, cases like McClain's are receiving renewed attention, with widespread calls for government officials to take action to end police brutality against Black people and to address systemic racism in society.

It is unclear what steps Colorado officials will be taking to re-examine McClain's death.

Newsweek has contacted Polis' office, as well as the Aurora Police Department for comment.

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A protester holds up a sign near Black Lives Matter plaza near the White House in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 2020. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty
Colorado Officials to Examine Elijah McClain's Death in Police Custody | U.S.