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Aurora council committee pushes forward with Elijah McClain independent investigation

Elijah McClain
Posted at 12:18 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 17:33:26-04

AURORA, Colo. — The Aurora City Council’s Public Safety, Courts and Civil Service Committee voted unanimously Thursday to forward a resolution calling for an independent investigation into Elijah McClain’s death to the full council for it to hear next week.

The three-member independent investigation team will have at least three consultants and will be led by Jonathan Smith of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in Washington, D.C.

The team will include consultants who have expertise in independent investigations, law enforcement and public safety accountability, civil rights, use of force, police and EMT training and criminal justice. Though the resolution was sent to the council to be heard at the July 20 meeting, the committee members said they are still working to find a medical expert who can speak to the use of ketamine on McClain and at least one other person. They said they hoped to have a name on the medical expert – someone from out of state – sometime this week.

The resolution passed by the committee Thursday says the team, once formed, will “commence its work immediately and shall complete its investigation as expeditiously as possible.”

The team would then issue a written report to the city council, present its findings to the council in a public meeting, and make the report public. The report will include recommendations to the city on the McClain incident as well as future best practices the police, fire and EMT departments should implement.

McClain, 23, was unarmed when he was encountered by Aurora police on Aug. 24, 2019. Police put McClain in a carotid hold, which limits blood flow to the brain, after stopping him while he was walking home. When he became unresponsive, paramedics gave him ketamine, police have said.

The officers involved in McClain's death were not arrested or charged, despite continued calls for justice from McClain's family and supporters, along with calls for an independent investigation.

Aurora city leaders in June said a Connecticut attorney was leading a third-party investigation into the McClain incident. But city councilmembers Alison Hiltz, Curtis Gardener, and Angela Lawson argued that the attorney, a former police officer who has worked closely with police departments, could not provide an independent review. The city cut ties with the attorney before moving forward with the current investigation.

In June, as McClain's death garnered national interest, Gov. Jared Polis appointed Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate the officers' actions. The Colorado U.S. Attorney's Office also confirmed it is working with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to investigate the matter.