AURORA, Colo. — Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman called a special city council meeting for Tuesday to hear from police about their response to Saturday's protests over the death of Elijah McClain.
“We are hearing many questions and concerns from the community about the tactics used by the Aurora Police Department during Saturday’s protests, and council needs to hear first-hand specifically what happened,” Coffman said in a statement. “The tragic death of Elijah McClain brought out many peaceful people over the weekend who want their voices heard, and unfortunately there were disruptions that overshadowed the broader message."
The Aurora council will meet virtually at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Residents can watch the meeting at AuroraTV.org, on Comcast Channels 8/880 in Aurora, or by dialing 1-877-820-783`1.
Police had said demonstrators remained peaceful through the afternoon and evening protests, but tensions between officers and protesters rose on several occasions.
Speaking to Denver7 Monday afternoon, Aurora Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said officers started seeing people put on masks, helmets and arm themselves with shields, and claimed some of the protesters also had pipes, sticks and batons and were allegedly passing out rocks among themselves, with undercover officers reportedly saying some among the group were shouting anti-police sentiments to try to incite the crowd.
"There were people armed – there was a man with a gun on his hip (open carry law, which is legal, so we couldn’t interrupt that person). There was a guy with a rifle slung with a ballistic vest on, there were – like I said – people with gas masks…-- that’s not peaceful protest; you’re looking to start a fight," Wilson told Denver7. "And so, the guy with the gun actually climbed up six feet onto a ledge out there, so now they had high ground on my officers – it was getting to the point where we saw them passing out rocks, we had to do something."
Wilson said that as the night progressed, agitators who "wanted a confrontation" started scooping up rocks to throw at officers, and others tried to grab officers' batons to try and disarm them.
"We can’t have that, and so we gave order after order after dispersal order and a lot of people left, but others weren't about to, they wanted confrontation," Wilson said, "And so when they started with the rocks, we had to continue to push at that point, we had to continue to say, 'Move back!' ... and they'd moved and people were rushing with shields, trying to break our line, grabbing our officers' sticks, refusing to move and so it was... it became violent quickly."
You can watch a full description of the events according to Aurora police in the video below.
Naomi McClain, who is Elijah McClain's sister, said she felt like police, at one point, were “just trying to shut us down from continuing our protest” after the department declared an unlawful assembly.
Just before 8:20 p.m., Aurora police said that they had declared an unlawful assembly at the Aurora Municipal Center and said “a small contingent” of protesters were “arming themselves with rocks & sticks and continue to ignore orders to move back.”
Minutes later, the department said rocks and bottles were being thrown. It was unclear when speaking to protesters exactly what led to police using pepper spray, though Denver7 spoke to at least two people who had been hit who were not among the agitators.
Body cam footage provided by the Aurora Police Department and released Monday show portions of the protest. In one of the clips, police are heard yelling "get back" at a group of protesters after they knocked over metal fencing and began moving toward officers. Another clip shows an officer being hit with what appears to be a plastic water bottle. Watch the portion of video provided by APD in the player below:
The department said that officers had deployed pepper spray and asked “all peaceful protesters and community members” to move to the parking lot near the library.
One man who was sprayed said that he had been shoved in the stomach with a baton prior to being sprayed.
“It’s the police trying to shut us down,” she said, adding she was “disappointed completely.”
Just before 9:30 p.m., Aurora police said three people were taken into custody “for violating lawful orders after warnings were given.”
At the time, most of the people in the area silently watched the makeshift orchestra perform.
Wilson said in an interview with Denver7 on Saturday night that she appreciated the peaceful protesters and thought that “this community did a great job.”
But said that the pepper spray was deployed because of a small group who she said were wearing helmets, carrying sticks and rocks. She also claimed that some people were carrying firearms.
“All they were trying to do was turn this into a violent encounter,” she said of that small group.
McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, died following an interaction with Aurora police last August. McClain suffered a heart attack on the way to a hospital after a responding officer requested that a paramedic give McClain a dose of ketamine "due to the level of physical force applied while restraining the subject and his agitated mental state," officials said.
The officers involved in his death did not face criminal charges and were found not to have violated department policies. The city has since changed department policies directly in the wake of McClain's death after calls for further investigation.
Aurora police said Friday that the officers involved in the death of McClain were reassigned "because of threats and harassment," a police spokesperson said in a statement.
On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis appointed Attorney General Phil Weiser to re-investigate and possibly prosecute the officers involved in McClain’s death.