Multiple police officers in Aurora, Colorado, have been placed on administrative leave with pay after an allegation that they were photographed “near the site where Elijah McClain died,” police said Monday.
Aurora Police Department Interim Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson said Thursday she learned the allegation was reported to Internal Affairs and directed the department “to make this investigation their top priority.” Wilson said the investigation was completed Monday evening and will be released publicly.
“This will include reports, photographic evidence obtained, officer’s names and my final determination, which can rise to the level of termination,” she said in the statement.
Wilson did not detail what the officers were doing in the photo.
McClain, a Black massage therapist, died in police custody last year. His death received national attention in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, which led to nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
The three officers involved in McClain’s arrest were taken off the streets and work in a “non-enforcement” capacity, which is typically administrative, police spokesperson Faith Goodrich told KUSA last week.
“This was done in an effort to protect those officers,” Goodrich wrote in an email to the station.
An online petition gained more than 3 million signatures calling for an investigation, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor to reexamine his death.
‘Elijah McClain should be alive today’:Special prosecutor appointed to investigate death after millions sign petition
Polis announced last week that he signed an executive order designating state Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate McClain’s death and determine whether facts support criminal prosecution. The governor said he was moved by speaking with McClain’s mother, who described her son as “a responsible and curious child” who could “inspire the darkest soul.”
“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 in a news release.
Polis signed a sweeping police accountability bill last week that bars the use of chokeholds and carotid holds, a move he called “a step in the right direction.”
Around 10:30 p.m. Aug. 24, McClain was walking home from a convenience store.
The Aurora Police Department received a call of a “suspicious man” wearing a ski mask, according to a news release. Officers arrived and tried to stop McClain, who they said was “actively resisting” and trying to grab one of their guns. They wrestled him to the ground and put him in a carotid hold, applying pressure around his neck, restricting blood flow to the brain.
McClain briefly went unconscious. The fire department and paramedics were called to assist and injected McClain with ketamine to sedate him.
Is that legal? Elijah McClain was injected with ketamine before he died.
In more than three hours of body camera footage of the arrest, McClain is held down on the ground, vomiting, sobbing and saying, “I can’t breathe.” An officer tells McClain, “If you keep messing around, I’m going to bring my dog out, and he’s going to dog bite you.”
McClain was loaded into an ambulance where a paramedic determined he was not breathing and did not have a pulse.
He was declared brain dead three days later and was removed from life support Aug. 30. An autopsy was unable to determine whether his death was an accident, due to natural causes or a homicide. The Adams County Coroner’s Office report listed several contributing factors, including the combination of intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery.
The district attorney’s office declined to file criminal charges in November. A police force review board said in February that the officers had a lawful reason to contact McClain and that the use of force during the altercation, including the carotid hold, “was within policy and consistent with training.”
As the petition calling for an investigation gained millions of signatures, the district attorney’s office received thousands of emails and calls and the police department received hundreds of complaints.
“I don’t open up investigations based on petitions,” Adams County District Attorney Dave Young told Colorado Politics. “Obviously, if there is new evidence to look at, I will look at the evidence in any case.”
The city manager selected an investigator to conduct an external review of the case, but the mayor of Aurora announced last week that the city terminated its contract with the appointed investigator, who was an attorney and a former police officer.
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
‘Justice For Elijah McClain’:More than 2 million sign petition nearly a year after his death