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Aurora terminates investigator heading Elijah McClain investigation; city council, mayor will pick replacement

Changes come after pressure from city council's public safety committee
Elijah McClain
Posted at 4:32 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 18:49:01-04

AURORA, Colo. – Aurora has terminated the contract with a Connecticut investigator who was announced Tuesday as leading an independent investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, and his replacement will be picked by the mayor and city council after pressure from several city council members.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman announced the changes Wednesday afternoon – about 24 hours after he, the interim police chief and city manager held a news conference to announce policy changes within the Aurora Police Department, and City Manager Jim Twombly announced that Connecticut-based attorney Eric Daigle was leading the investigation.

Three city council members, all of whom are members of the council’s public safety committee, balked at the pick of Daigle, however, saying in a letter Wednesday morning they don’t consider him to be a third party because he often works with police departments.

Daigle’s law work includes “defending municipalities, police chiefs, and individual officers from law enforcement liability claims,” according to his website.

"Unfortunately, an attorney with a long career in law enforcement that specializes in defending municipal police departments from liability claims doesn't qualify, in our minds, as a neutral review," councilmembers Allison Hiltz, Curtis Gardner and Angela Lawson wrote. "This is especially true considering there is a pending civil suit in this case."

By 4 p.m. Wednesday, Coffman had changed that course.

“The selection of the investigator to conduct an external review of the Elijah McClain case was decided earlier by the City Manager, that contract has been terminated and another individual will be selected by the Mayor and the City Council,” Coffman said in a tweet.

Twombly had said Tuesday that Daigle was likely to have a draft report for the investigation completed by July, after which he would have presented to the police review board and received feedback before the report was made public.

Twombly said in a statement that he understood the concerns from the councilmembers and agreed to terminate Daigle's contract.

“I hear and understand Council’s concerns—as well as the community’s—about the individual that was hired to conduct the investigation. Therefore, I have canceled Mr. Daigle’s contract and will be meeting with the Council as soon as possible to determine our next steps initiating a new investigation,” Twombly said. “Together we all want to achieve meaningful improvements, eliminate racial inequity and make lives better in our community. This review –and ultimately its findings—is a critical step toward these goals.”

Calls for an independent and external review in McClain’s August 2019 death have been ongoing since it happened, and the officers involved in his death did not face criminal charges and were found not to have violated department policies.

McClain, who is black, suffered a heart attack on the way to a hospital after the Aug. 24 incident, which happened in the 1900 block of Billings Street. Officers had responded to a call about a suspicious man wearing a ski mask and waving his arms. When they arrived, they contacted McClain, who resisted when the officers tried to detain him, police said.

A struggle ensued, and 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.

Hiltz, Gardner and Lawson had called for a “neutral third party” to investigate McClain’s case on Tuesday morning before the city’s announcement.

"What I am hearing from the community is a lack of trust. I think trust has been eroded and from my perspective it is really important that we can review what happened and be able to go to the public and say here are the facts,” Gardner said at the time.

In the department's review of the incident earlier this year, the board found that the officers "had a lawful reason to contact Mr. McClain."

The board also found that the force applied by officers — which included a carotid control hold — during the incident was "within policy and consistent with training."

The carotid hold was banned by the department as of Tuesday, however.

The Adams County Coroner conducted the autopsy on McClain and ruled that the manner of his death was "undetermined," saying it could not determine whether his death was an accident, due to natural causes or a homicide.