Civil rights probe after Elijah McClain’s death finds Aurora police ‘racially biased’

Civil rights probe after Elijah McClain’s death finds Aurora police ‘racially biased’
Attorney general probe finds ‘consistent pattern of illegal behavior’ within Aurora Police Department

A Colorado state investigation sparked by the police killing of unarmed Black 23-year-old Elijah McClain found the Aurora Police Department “has a pattern and practice of violating state and federal law through racially biased policing.”

The 112-page report found “a consistent pattern of illegal behavior by Aurora Police, which can be witnessed at many levels of the department,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office said in a statement on 15 September.

The agency “does not create and oversee appropriate expectations for responsible behavior, which leads to the use of excessive force and the violation of the civil rights of its residents,” the report found.

Aurora police have used force against people of colour over two and a half times more than against white residents. Black people make up nearly half of all cases in which police use force, despite Black residents making up only 15 per cent of the city’s population, according to the report, which cited police data.

Police in Aurora also arrested people of colour 1.3 times more than white people, and Black people were arrested twice as often as white people.

“These actions are unacceptable,” Mr Weiser said on Wednesday. “They hurt the people that law enforcement is entrusted to protect, and they destroy community trust.”

The attorney general’s office announced an investigation into Aurora law enforcement in August 2020 on the same day that the parents of Elijah McClain filed a lawsuit against the city.

On 25 August 2019, Aurora police tackled Mr McClain to the ground, where he was pinned for 15 minutes as he cried out in distress. Officers also placed him in a carotid hold twice, cutting off blood flow to his brain and possibly causing him to lose consciousness.

When paramedics arrived, they administered a “therapeutic” dose of ketamine.

He suffered a heart attack, and died on 30 August 2019.

Body-mounted cameras were not attached to the officers during their confrontation with Mr McClain, but audio was recorded.

Two police officers, one former officer and two paramedics face one count each of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide and other charges in connection with Mr McClain’s death.

The officers named in the indictment are Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema and former officer Jason Rosenblatt. The paramedics are Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec.

Because of ongoing criminal probes, the attorney general report does not include information from Mr McClain’s death.

But the investigation found that Aurora paramedics administered ketamine 22 times for so-called “excited delirium” cases between January 2019 and June 2020, marking a “pattern and practice of administering ketamine illegally.” Aurora Fire Rescue has suspended use of ketamine.

“These records show that, in more than half the incidents, paramedics failed to follow ketamine monitoring protocols and administered ketamine at doses above the maximum allowable dose for the reported weight of the subject,” according to the report.

The investigation marks the first of its kind in the state after the state legislature recently passed a comprehensive police reform bill authorising the state attorney general to conduct “pattern or practice” civil rights probes, with accused agencies given a 60-day window to implement policy changes before the state will take legal action.

Attorney General Weiser said that the state is “prepared to move forward with legal action if necessary”.

Aurora police chief Vanessa Wilson said her agency “will work with the Attorney General’s Office to determine how to implement necessary and sustainable changes” and signalled that Aurora police will commit to a court-ordered agreement, or consent decree, to ensure changes are made.

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