Facing mounting pressure from the public, Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis vowed on Wednesday to explore how the state could re-examine the 2019 death of 23-year-old black man Elijah McClain, who died after being detained while walking down the street in Aurora, Colo.
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. (1/2)
— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) June 24, 2020
McClain’s death has come back into the public spotlight during the last month of demonstrations against racism and police brutality, following the death of George Floyd who was killed after police in Minneapolis pinned him to the ground for several minutes.
The 23-year-old was walking home wearing a ski mask and dancing to music on Aug. 24, 2019, when someone called 911 to report him as suspicious. Police tried to stop him, but he kept walking, insisting that he had done nothing wrong and had a right to continue his walk.
Then, officers tackled him, placed him in a chokehold, and restrained him. A paramedic who arrived on the scene later injected him with ketamine to subdue him. McClain had a heart attack while being taken to the hospital. He suffered brain damage and was placed on life support until he died on Aug. 30, 2019, the Denver Post reported.
After an internal investigation, the Aurora Police Department found the officers involved in the stop had acted within the bounds of acceptable policy and training. The local district attorney declined to prosecute any criminal charges related to McClain’s death.
The city had proposed an independent review of the case, but after the first man chosen to head the inquiry turned out to be a former police officer, Aurora officials scrapped that effort and asked the city manager to nominate a different investigator.
Celebrities like Michelle Branch and Kacey Musgraves have recently voiced support for a new inquiry into McClain’s death, and an online petition to suspend the officers and reconsider the case now has more than 2.6 million signatures.
“Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever,” Polis said on Twitter. “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 [sic] to examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps.”
Despite Polis’s willingness to pursue a state-level investigation, it remains to be seen if he can order such an action. Past attempts to intervene in local police investigations have not succeeded, the Denver Post reported.
Some local Aurora officials have voiced support for potentially reexamining the case, however.
Mayor Mike Coffman on Wednesday accelerated a vote to choose a new independent investigator to scrutinize the actions of the police and paramedics involved in McClain’s death. And city council member Curtis Gardner sent a letter on behalf of the city’s public safety committee to the city manager, urging him to nominate a neutral investigator to take a second look at the case.
“Over the last several days, we have received thousands of contacts from all over the country – phone calls, text messages, emails and social media tags,” the committee said in the letter. “The community has made clear they support our call for an independent investigation.”