Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced his office would look into the police-involved death of Elijah McClain after public outcry.
McClain was walking home from a convenience store on the night of Aug. 24, 2019, with four cans of Brisk iced tea when he was approached by Aurora Police officers. The 23-year-old was wearing a ski mask at the time because he was anemic and got cold easily. The officers were at the scene in the Denver suburb because they received a call about a suspicious person wearing a ski mask and “acting weird” by “waving his arms around,” according to authorities.
Aurora Police claim McClain did not comply when they asked him to stop walking, saying McClain said, “I have a right to go where I am going,” and continued resisting when they tried to detain him, leading three officers to place him in a “carotid control hold.” The technique, which cuts off blood flow on the side of the neck, led McClain to lose consciousness briefly.
The slightly built McClain struggled with officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema for nearly 15 minutes — repeatedly sobbing and vomiting — before a total of four fire department medics arrived on the scene and sedated him with 500 milligrams of ketamine — one medic told investigators for the 17th Judicial District District Attorney’s Office he gave a dose suitable for what he estimated to be a 220-pound man — and loaded the subdued man into an ambulance. McClain, who weighed 140 pounds when he died, suffered two heart attacks en route to a nearby hospital.
He was in a coma until his family took him off life support on Aug. 30. No one was ever charged for his death and the officers involved remain on the force. There is bodycam footage but only audio because the officers’ body cameras reportedly fell off during the scuffle.
“There was a physical struggle,” former APD Chief Nick Metz said in October, according to Colorado Politics. “When [police] saw [McClain], they told him to stop. He wouldn’t stop. Again, he was wearing a ski mask, it’s 10:30 p.m. at night in a residential area, so obviously that creates some concern.”
In the video, one of the officers admitted McClain did not doing anything illegal, while another claimed McClain reached for his gun. At one point, one officer said “move your camera dude” during the altercation. McClain begged the officers to release him and repeatedly told officers he couldn’t breathe.
Change.org user Piper Rundell started a petition to 17th Judicial District District Attorney Dave Young, Mayor Mike Coffman and the Aurora Police Department open a new investigation.
“Demand these officers are taken off duty, and that a more in-depth investigation is held,” the petition stated. As of this writing, the petition has received more than 2.3 million signatures.
McClain’s story has also sparked discussion on social media.
“Elijah McClain’s story…. really has me… I don’t even know what to say,” tweeted author Roxane Gay. “23 years old. Minding his business walking with some iced tea. 3 cops whose bodycams conveniently fall and offer no evidence, murder him.”
Additionally, a GoFundMe campaign for McClain’s family has garnered more than $1 million in donations.
On Wednesday, Polis tweeted his intentions to look into the matter.
“Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever. A fair and objective process free from real or perceived bias for investigating officer-involved killings is critical,” he wrote.
“I am hearing from many Coloradans who have expressed concerns with the investigation of Elijah McClain’s death. As a result, I have instructed my legal council to examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps.”
The governor’s decision came two days after Adams County District Attorney Dave Young said he did not intend to reopen the case unless there was new evidence.
“I don’t open up investigations based on petitions,” Young told Colorado Politics on Monday. “Obviously, if there is new evidence to look at, I will look at the evidence in any case. But no. I’m not going to open up an investigation because people are signing a petition.”