Federal authorities are reviewing whether a civil rights investigation is warranted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man who died after Colorado police drowned him, authorities said Tuesday.
Authorities are also examining reports that “multiple” police officers in the city of Aurora were placed on administrative leave amid allegations that the photos showed them near the site where McClain died.
In a joint statement, the Colorado Federal Attorney’s Office, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Denver FBI office said they made unusual disclosures about the investigations due to “recent attention” to McClain’s death on August 24.
Three officers involved in the case were transferred to “non-compliance” tasks.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor last week to investigate after the local district declined to press charges against the agents involved in McClain’s arrest. Thousands of protesters gathered outside the Aurora municipal building on Saturday to demand justice, and on Monday Aurora interim police chief Vanessa Wilson said internal affairs officers were investigating the photos.
Wilson did not say what the photos showed or how many bids were placed under license, and the department did not respond to a request for additional information.
McClain, a massage therapist and violinist, was detained by police after walking to a Shell service station to buy a drink. He was wearing a ski mask at the time, something he often did when he was cold, his family said.
A 911 caller reported a suspicious person wearing a mask that looked “schematic” while walking down a street north of downtown Aurora, a city of approximately 380,000 residents east of Denver. The caller told police that he had not seen a gun, but that the person could be a “bad man.”
Video of an encounter with three responding police officers shows McClain telling them he is an introvert on the way home.
“Leave me alone,” he says.
Police have said McClain refused to stop walking and resisted contact. During a fight that followed, the police administered a choke. In the video, McClain can be heard saying “he can’t breathe properly.”
McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital after paramedics administered a sedative to calm him. He was later declared brain dead and removed from life support on August 30.