Police

Activists Force New Look at the Death of Elijah McClain

Police used a controversial neck restraint during McClain's arrest.

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In the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, anti-brutality protesters have demanded more accountability in lesser-known cases across the country. One of those cases involves Elijah McClain, a man who died during an encounter with the Aurora Police Department (APD). Now that the story has gone viral, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has instructed his legal team to explore possible action.

On August 24, 2019, a man called 911 to report that McClain was walking with a ski mask on and had put his hands up when the caller passed by. Not everything that happened after that is clear, but much of it can be pieced together from three hours of body camera footage subsequently released by the APD:

One video shows McClain objecting as police arrest him, telling them that he's an introvert on his way home. The officers then decide to move him to some nearby grass and to lay his body down. What happens next is difficult to determine, but you can hear sounds of a struggle and a "Stop, dude" from one of the officers. McClain is then restrained.

Two more videos begin with sounds of a restrained McClain in the background. McClain is heard telling the officers that he can't breathe and pleading that he's an introvert and "just different." In the background, you can hear an officer saying that the events began because McClain reached for a cop's gun.

One asks if McClain is "out." Another responds that he heard some snoring but McClain remained conscious.

"Do we have anything other than him being suspicious?" an officer asks. Others reply, "No."

An officer then explains his side of the story. He says McClain immediately pulled his arms into his body when approached. At that point, the officer says, he told McClain he just wanted to talk. The officer says McClain responded by making the same motion with his arms several times and speaking in incoherent sentences. The officer also states that while he didn't feel anything, another cop warned him that McClain was trying to grab his gun. The officer says he attempted to perform a carotid control hold—a controversial neck restraint—but let go because he was in a bad position. (The carotid control hold is highly controversial, as the potential for it to become a chokehold is high. In a February statement, the APD justified the use of the hold as being "within policy and consistent with training." On June 9, the department updated its policies to prohibit the maneuver.)

Another video picks up the scene from a different perspective, showing the Aurora Fire Department arriving and administering a dose of ketamine to subdue McClain. Aurora Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Steve McInerny has since stated that this was consistent with department and regional protocol.

McClain went into cardiac arrest twice while being transported to the hospital and was later declared brain dead. On August 30, 2019, his family took him off life support.

An autopsy report from the Adams County Coroner's Office listed McClain's cause of death as undetermined. "Most likely the decedent's physical exertion contributed to death. It is unclear if the officer's action contributed as well," the report says. As for the ketamine, "an idiosyncratic drug reaction…cannot be ruled out."

The local District Attorney's Office announced in November that it would not pursue charges against the officers. "Based on the investigation presented and the applicable Colorado law, there is no reasonable likelihood of success of proving any state crimes beyond a reasonable doubt at trial," the D.A. wrote. "Therefore, no state criminal charges shall be filed as a result of the incident."

But now that McClain's story is receiving national attention, there may be some action after all. On Wednesday, Gov. Polis tweeted that he had instructed his legal council to examine the state's role in the case.

"Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever," Polis added. "A fair and objective process free from real or perceived bias for investigating officer-involved killings is critical."

NEXT: The Federal 'Anti-Lynching' Bill Sacrifices Justice for Symbolism

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  1. That video is 3 hours 8 mines 30 seconds long. Jesus.

    1. 8 minutes*
      Christ on a pogo stick, I need an edit button already. Or at least bring back the preview button.

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  2. “a man called 911 to report that McClain was walking with a ski mask on and had put his hands up when the caller passed by.”

    He was socially distancing! And it’s easy for cops to pick on introverts, since we’re not going to get together in large numbers to protest.

    1. He was socially distancing!

      Before it was cool.

  3. We need to get this man justice at the hands of another McClain. John & Elijah McClain in Die Hard During a Routine Police Encounter.

    1. Die Hard
      Die Hard 2
      Die Hard 3 – Die Hard With a Vengeance
      Die Hard 4 – Live Free or Die Hard
      Die Hard 5 – A Good Day to Die Hard
      And now…
      Die Hard 6 – Eat Shit and Die Hard

      1. You’re right. That is better.

        1. Die Hard 6 – Life’s a Bitch and Then You Die Hard

  4. Sad, sad story

  5. Aurora Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Steve McInerny has since stated that this was consistent with department and regional protocol.

    WHICH MAKES IT PERFECTLY LEGAL AND BEYOND REPROACH.

  6. Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever…

    Suggesting rightly that no one there gave a fuck before.

  7. I’m no doctor, but I’m going with the ketamine on this one.

    1. Yeah, the neck restraint isn’t actually what killed him. The EMTs fucked up and injected him with a ketamine dose suitable for a 250-pound man. McClain weighed something like 130 pounds.

  8. This is an incredibly disturbing article, reminiscent of Soviet psychiatry methods. Why in the living hell are the police and EMTs going around injecting ‘problem citizens’ with mind-melting dissociative anesthetics? When did this become SOP and ‘best practice?’ Shit, why not just go for broke and pump suspected troublemakers full of Midazolam and Fentanyl, or maybe a Propofol and Anectine cocktail while they’re at it? What’s next, ‘sluggish schizophrenia?’

    Ketamine has its uses, but it’s nasty, nasty stuff – especially when forcibly/surreptitiously administered. Don’t ask me how I know this, but some less-than-scrupulous, authoritarian medical practitioners in our nation’s ERs have been known to dose patients on the sly with Ketamine, because they felt (or were told by the cops) the person needed a 72-hour ‘psych-eval.’ A few drops in a drink or hospital meal, every few hours, can easily make someone appear mentally unhinged – especially if they’re unaware they’ve been dosed and have never experienced the horrors of Ketamine before.

    At the very least, these EMTs should have their credentials revoked immediately and be permanently banned from ever working in the medical field again. Arresting them for felony assault would also be a good start. I really, REALLY don’t like where this nation is headed!

  9. Was McClain black or white? I need to know before I can decide whether to be outraged or not.

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