Colorado officials on Thursday reopened an investigation into the case of an unarmed black man who died after being placed in a chokehold by police who stopped him because he was “being suspicious.”
The 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain has drawn new attention amid the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality sparked by the May 25 slaying of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Posts about McClain have flooded social media in recent weeks. A petition calling for an in-depth investigation into his death and for the officers involved to be taken off duty garnered more than 3 million signatures in three weeks.
Amid mounting outrage, Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday appointed Attorney General Phil Weiser to probe McClain’s death and possibly prosecute those involved.
“Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern,” Polis said in a statement.
On Aug. 24, McClain was walking home in Aurora after buying iced tea at a corner store for his cousin when he was stopped by police, McClain’s younger sister, Samara McClain, told The Denver Post shortly after his death.
Police said they had received a call about a suspicious person wearing a ski mask and waving his arms as he walked down a street.
Body camera footage showed a cop getting out of his car, approaching McClain and saying, “Stop right there. Stop. Stop. … I have a right to stop you because you’re being suspicious.”
Officers said McClain refused to stop walking and fought back when they tried to take him into custody.
The video shows the cops trying to restrain McClain as he begs them to let go and says, “You guys started to arrest me, and I was stopping my music to listen.”
“Let go of me. I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking,” McClain is heard saying.
Those words have appeared on scores of social media posts demanding justice for the young man.
One of the cops put McClain in a chokehold, which cuts off blood to the brain.
A paramedic also gave McClain 500 milligrams of the sedative ketamine to calm him down, and he suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital.
He was declared brain dead on Aug. 27 and taken off life support three days later.
A forensic pathologist couldn’t determine what exactly led to his death but said physical exertion during the confrontation likely contributed.
McClain’s younger sister, Samara, said he often wore masks when he was outside because he had a blood condition that caused him to get cold easily.
Her brother was a massage therapist who planned to go to college, she said.
The police department put the three officers on leave, but they returned to the force when District Attorney Dave Young said there was insufficient evidence to support charging them.
“Ultimately, while I may share the vast public opinion that Elijah McClain’s death could have been avoided, it is not my role to file criminal charges based on opinion, but rather, on the evidence revealed from the investigation and applicable Colorado law,” Young said shortly before Polis ordered the investigation reopened.
In his statement, Polis said that McClain’s friends “describe him as a gentle peacemaker who worked as a massage therapist and enjoyed playing the violin.”
Polis said he had spoken to McClain’s mother and was moved by her description of her son as a “responsible and curious child… who could inspire the darkest soul.”
With Post wires
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