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‘Consistent Pattern of Illegal Behavior’: Colorado AG Probe Finds Aurora Police Display Racial Bias, Disproportionately Arrest Black People

Aurora police officers show racial bias and arrest Black people at disproportionate rates, according to a 118-page report released by the Colorado attorney general’s office.

The Sept. 15 report is the result of a yearlong probe into possible racial bias within the Aurora Police Department, and found that the disparities exist across different forms of police activity involving Black people in Aurora in “nearly every important type of police contact with the community.”

In August 2020, Attorney General Phil Weiser announced the investigation of Aurora Police and Aurora Fire based on multiple community reports about misconduct, and following the death of Elijah McClain. McClain, 23, died in 2019 after he was injected with ketamine by paramedics while handcuffed.

A petition demanding a new investigation into the police-involved death of Elijah McClain (above) has garnered more than 2 million signatures. (Photo: GoFundMe)

The investigation also found Aurora Fire had a pattern of administering ketamine in violation of the law.

“Elevating policing and building confidence in law enforcement is a critical priority for the Department of Law. Our authority to conduct pattern and practice investigations is an important tool for advancing this goal,” Weiser said in a statement.

“In this case, our team conducted a thorough examination—with the aid of the full cooperation of the city of Aurora—and developed important findings on how Aurora can come into compliance with the law and elevate the effectiveness and trustworthiness of law enforcement.”

The investigative team participated in more than 220 hours in ride-alongs with police officers and firefighters, observed most Force Review Board meetings between December 2020 and September 2021 and reviewed thousands of use-of-force reports.

The findings of the investigation demonstrate “a consistent pattern of illegal behavior by Aurora Police, which can be witnessed at many levels of the department,” according to a statement from the attorney general’s office.

The probe found that in the absence of appropriate expectations, the department engages in excessive force and violates the civil rights of residents. Investigators found that Aurora police use force on people of color two-point-five times as often as on whites based on their relative percentage of the population.

Nearly half of the individuals whom Aurora Police used force against were Black, even though Black residents make up about 15 percent of the population in Aurora, according to the Force Review Board’s annual use-of-force reports.

Officers also used escalating force in situations where it was clear a person was suffering from mental distress and when the individual didn’t have time comply with an officer’s requests.

In addition, relative to population, Aurora police arrest people of color one-point-three times more than white people. Black residents are arrested at twice the rate of whites. Officers continue to violate the law by making traffic stops and failing to document them.

McClain was confronted by police while walking home from an Aurora convenience store in August 2019 after someone made a call to 911 to report a suspicious person. Officers handcuffed McClain and paramedics administered a 500mg dose of ketamine. Based on his weight and according to medical guidelines, McClain should have received 320 mg to 350 mg of the drug.

On the way to the hospital, McClain went into cardiac arrest and was taken off life support on Aug. 30.

On Sept. 14, 2020, the use of ketamine by Aurora Fire was suspended. But between January 2019 to June 2020, Aurora Fire administered ketamine 22 times for excited delirium, and in more than half of those instances, failed to follow proper monitoring protocols and administered doses above what was allowable for the person’s weight.

Four Aurora Police officers are off the force after this photo (from left) of Erica Marrero, Jaron Jones and Kyle Dittrich surfaced. Marrero and Dittrich were fired on Friday, days after Jones resigned. Jason Rosenblatt, a fourth officer, was fired for laughing at the picture instead of reporting it. (Photo: Screenshot/Denver7)

Weiser expressed expectations for the department to begin to correct the issues by entering a consent decree that outlines specific changes. “Over the coming weeks, we look forward to working with Aurora and other stakeholders to create a consent decree that ensures these requirements are implemented promptly. We are encouraged by the city of Aurora’s interest in working with us to do so,” he said.

Earlier this month, a Colorado grand jury indicted several former and current Aurora officers in connection with McClain’s death. They face a total of 32 counts of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault charges.

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