Police Chief Reassures Officers After Reforms Announced in Response to Elijah McCain Killing

A suburban Denver Police department has agreed to reform after the killing of Elijah McCain. The police chief reassured officers who work on the street that there is nothing to fear with the reform, the Associated Press reported.

The main goals of the agreement are to eliminate excessive use of force and increase tracking and transparency about how officers engage with the community. Additionally, creating a more diverse workforce in the police and fire departments, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said.

"We are not going to shy away from reform," Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said. "To the officers on the street, this consent decree is nothing to be afraid of."

A civil rights investigation sparked the reform and found a pattern of racially-biased policing and excessive force in the police department. The investigation was launched by Weiser after outrage over the death of McClain, a Black man, when police put him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with ketamine in 2019.

A monitor, which will be in place for about five years, will oversee if Aurora is following the plan and meeting goals. Part of the agreement is paying for the monitor which will cost as much as $250,000 a year, Aurors City Manager Jim Twombly said.

Fire Chief Fernande Gray said the fire department stopped using ketamine in September 2020 and has no plans to re-introduce it.

Aurora city officials said they are on board with the plan, which also includes the city's fire department. It still hinges on city council approval.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Phil Weiser, Elijah McClain, Civil Rights Investigation
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser says a civil rights investigation begun amid outrage over the death of Elijah McClain has determined that the Aurora, Colorado, Police Department has a pattern of racially-biased policing. Weiser speaks at a news conference in Denver on September 15. David Zalubowski/AP Photo

The plan comes from the results of the civil rights investigation. The investigation found that Aurora police used force against people of color almost 2.5 times more than against whites based on their relative share of the population. According to the police department's use-of-force reports, nearly half of the people officers used force against were Black even though Black people account for about 15 percent of the city's population, Weiser's office said.

The city cooperated in the probe and in negotiating the agreement.

Wilson, who took over as chief after McClain's death, said that the findings of the investigation were hurtful to many officers, most of whom are committed to fair policing.

"They want to police this community in a way that gives dignity and equality and inclusion to all," Wilson said.

Police stopped McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, as he walked home from a store on August 24, 2019, after a 911 caller reported a man wearing a ski mask and waving his hands who seemed "sketchy."

Officers put McClain in a chokehold and pinned him down. Paramedics injected him with 500 milligrams of ketamine, an amount appropriate for someone 77 pounds (35 kilograms) heavier than McClain's 143-pound (64-kilogram) frame, according to an indictment. He fell unconscious, was pronounced brain-dead at a hospital, and was taken off life support.

Weiser's office is prosecuting three officers and two paramedics on manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault charges in McClain's death. He convened a grand jury to decide whether to file criminal charges after being ordered to take another look at the case by Democratic Governor Jared Polis amid last year's protests over racial injustice. The local prosecutor decided against filing any charges in 2019, in part because an autopsy failed to determine what exactly caused McClain's death.

Lawyers for Elijah McClain's mother, Sheneen McClain, said in a statement that police in the city have been allowed to violate the rights of residents without accountability or consequences for too long but that she was hopeful that the agreement would bring badly needed reform.

"The lawlessness that infected this police department murdered Elijah," they said