AURORA, Colo. -- The Aurora City Council meeting was disrupted Monday night after protesters called for transparency and accountability in the death of Elijah McClain.
The 23-year-old died six days after a confrontation with Aurora Police where a sedative was used to calm him down.
Transparency and accountability
At the city council meeting, dozens of protesters showed up and signed up to speak during the public comment period.
One of the protesters cursed at the city council and flipped them off. Demonstrators started chanting part way through the meeting, causing Mayor Bob LeGare to ask for them to be removed and then to call for a recess when they remained in the city council chambers. The Mayor then continued the meeting in a different room.
“If we felt like we were being heard we wouldn’t have had to go on and shut the meeting down. They wanted to get on to business as usual,” said Lindsay Minter, one of the protest organizers. “The focus was to get these things past before some of them get out of office because it is election day today and they want to move things along while things are not moving along for the community.”
Protesters like Minter said they want the body camera footage for the officers who confronted McClain to be released so that they can see what happened for themselves. The body camera video was shown to McClain’s family and lawyer but has not been released publicly and the autopsy report has not been made available.
“The three police officers involved, we want them held accountable. We want them to have due process, of course, just like any other person, but we want the names released of those three officers,” said activist Kevin Detreville.
The three officers involved, who have not been identified, were returned to full duty within a couple of weeks of the incident.
As the city council recessed, a few members remained in their seats and watched as the protesters held their own, makeshift meeting to voice their concerns, chanting, “Say his name, Elijah McClain.”
When the city council returned to work in a different room, it passed a new, five-year contract worth nearly $287,000 with Viveu for officer body cameras.
The body cameras have come under criticism after acting police chief Paul O’Keefe said in a press conference that the body cameras can fall off of officers. The body cameras of three officers fell off during the altercation with McClain, something the family’s supporters have criticized.
Afterward, the city council voted six-to-four to suspend any public comment period during the upcoming Nov. 18 meeting should protesters return and disrupt the meeting again.
A consequential election
Monday’s city council meeting was the last one before voters headed to the polls Tuesday to pick the next mayor and five of ten city council members.
Demonstrators who were at the meeting are hoping the election will bring changes to the city council and, in turn, the police department.
“I think that Aurora has the opportunity to be really great right now and I would love to see my city be great,” Minter said. “We have the chance to flip the council so that it’s more reflective of what the community is actually wanting.”
The city is currently looking for a new police chief after former Chief Nick Metz announced his retirement in September. Metz told a Denver Post reporter in an interview that the Aurora Police Department was not something that needs to be fixed.
He also fired back at a Denver Post editorial saying that it turn a blind eye to the truth of what the department has accomplished. Both The Denver Post and the Aurora Sentinel published editorials calling for change in the city and within the police department.
Despite this, Detreville says he would like to see better training for police officers, more community engagement and more mentorships between police and youth in the community.
“We’re just ready for that next chief to step it up and to raise the bar,” he said. “It needs to go back to community policing and not over policing and that’s where we start.”
Meanwhile, Minter spent Tuesday encouraging people to vote at nursing homes and other facilities. Both are hoping that a new city council will add more transparency and oversight to the police department and to the selection process for the next chief of police.
Signs of Change
Even before the election, at least one city council member has proposed an external oversight committee for the police department.
Councilmember Nicole Johnston announced last week a proposal to create an independent review committee that would investigate all officer-involved shootings, severe injuries, deaths, accusations of excessive force, etc.
The current review board is only activated if the police chief or the officer involved ask for them to review a case.
“I wanted to create something to respond to the community's needs and address that we are a big city and this is an appropriate way to have one of the best cities to have this outside entity independent review system,” Johnston said.
Johnston says she isn’t sure that an independent review commission would come to different findings on several recent incidents involving officers but it would add another level of accountability in the government.
A stakeholder engagement process will be happening over the next six months for people to weigh in on the proposal and to come up with options. Ultimately, it will be up to the city council to vote on, however, which is why Johnston says Tuesday’s election is so consequential.
Even if an external review board is created, however, it would not help McClain’s family since it would not retroactively review cases.
Despite this, Minter says she is hopeful that it will result in changes to the way cases like this are handled in the future.
“I think for our community Elijah was like the Emmett Till of the past. I think he’s the catalyst for the Aurora movement. He was innocent and he was sweet,” Minter said. “Elijah being the catalyst for this movement should bring about big change for Aurora.”
The 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office said the investigation into McClain’s death is still ongoing. After it wraps up, it will be up to the District Attorney to decide whether charges should be filed.
No one from the city was available for an interview about Monday’s meeting and the city did not provide a statement to Denver7 to include in our reporting. The Aurora Police Department also declined requests for an interview.