Police had no legal reason to detain Elijah McClain, according to a new independent review, the first in a series of unwarranted and violent actions taken by officers that led to the 23-year-old black man being strangled and injected with ketamine. . before he died.
The investigative report, released Monday after millions of people called for justice for McClain, also expressed concerns about the Aurora, Colorado police department’s own investigation into officers’ use of force, alleging that the Police investigators did not ask “basic and critical questions.” and “did not present a neutral and objective version of events and apparently ignored the evidence to the contrary.” Although McClain died in August 2019, an independent investigation did not begin until the Black Lives Matter protests took place across the country in the summer of 2020.
The new report, commissioned by the Aurora city council, also found that officers had no legal reason to search or put McClain in the controversial strangulation, noting that none of the officers involved suspected McClain of a specific crime in no time before he was taken to court. ground.
McClain was stopped by police as he was walking home at around 10:30 p.m. on August 24, 2019.
According to the report, the first officer to contact McClain, Officer Nathan Woodyard, laid his hands on McClain 10 seconds after approaching him the first time, even though there were no visible weapons and McClain had not made any threatening gestures. to him.
“Woodyard’s decision to turn what could have been a consensual encounter with Mr. McClain into an investigative stop, in less than ten seconds, did not appear to be supported by any officer’s reasonable suspicion that Mr. McClain was involved in criminal activity, “according to the report. “This decision had ramifications for the rest of the match.”
After the violent arrest, during which McClain struggled to breathe, he was injected with a powerful dose of the sedative and rushed to a hospital. He died there three days later.
As the Aurora Police Department investigated his death, authorities did not ask basic questions, the independent review found.
“Instead, the questions often seemed designed to elicit specific exonerating ‘magic language’ found in court rulings,” the three-person review panel concluded, noting that the department’s investigation into McClain’s death “did not presented a neutral and objective version of the events and apparently ignored the contrary evidence. “
The officers’ actions were also never reviewed by the department’s Internal Affairs unit, which can only open an investigation at the request of the police chief. A review by the department’s Force Review Board was, according to the new investigation, “cursory and summary at best.”
A spokesperson for a local group Black Lives Matter said the new report confirmed that McClain should never have been confronted by police in the first place.
“The results of the independent investigation into Elijah’s murder further support what his family and community already knew,” said Apryl Alexander, a community organizer and spokesperson for BLM 5280. “It was a young man trying to walk home and he they were confronting for no reason. Instead of just talking to Elijah, physical force was used in 10 seconds; there wasn’t enough time for him to even explain that he was going home. He must end the criminalization of blacks for living their lives. ” .
McClain’s death sparked huge protests on the streets of Colorado, and more than 5 million have signed a petition on Change.org demanding that the officers involved in the deadly stop be held accountable.
According to authorities, McClain was originally taken into custody after police received a 911 call from someone who said they saw someone wearing a ski mask and “acting weird” and “waving their arms.”
McClain’s relatives have said he wore a ski mask to keep warm because he was anemic.
Audio from the body camera footage revealed that McClain asked officers to let him go. And according to the report released Monday, although the officers had to have “reasonable, objective” and “articulable” suspicions to make the stop, none of them offered one during subsequent interviews.
“None of the officers articulated a crime that they believed Mr. McClain had committed, was committing, or was about to commit,” according to the report.
Instead, officers said in interviews that McClain was acting “suspicious”, pointing at the ski mask and waving his arms in an area they described as having a “high crime rate.”
One officer, according to the report, claimed that McClain’s refusal to stop was itself suspicious because “it was consistent with someone who ‘just committed a crime’ or someone who is’ hiding something, be it a weapon or drugs.”
But that is not a legal reason for the police to detain a person, the report noted.
The panel also wrote that they could not find sufficient evidence that the officers had a legal justification for patting McClain, noting that one of the officers reported that he “felt safe approaching”, and there was no suggestion that McClain had a gun. .
Instead, officers forced McClain to the ground, with one reporting that McClain had attempted to grab an officer’s gun. Officers used a carotid restraint to immobilize McClain just before he passed out.
The report also noted that, in their description of their encounter with McClain, police described the 23-year-old as “fighting” and said he had “incredible strength” or “crazy strength.”
“It is not clear from the record whether Mr. McClain’s movements, interpreted by officers as resistance, were attempts to escape or simply an effort, voluntary or involuntary, to avoid the application of painful force, improve his breathing, or to accommodate their vomiting, “the report said.
Instead, the audio of the encounter recorded McClain “screaming in pain, apologizing, vomiting, and sometimes sounding incoherent.”
“His words were one of apology and confusion, not anger or threat,” the report said. “He became increasingly complaining and desperate as he struggled for breath. He told officers that he had his ID, that his name was Elijah McClain and that ‘I was just going home.’
One of the officers called the dispatch saying that McClain “was still fighting”, but the audio at the time of that broadcast shows McClain telling officers, “Excuse me” and “You guys are phenomenal, you are beautiful. Forgive me.”