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Aurora Orders Review Of Police Department Policy, Elijah McClain Case

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)- The City of Aurora has ordered a review of the Aurora Police Department, including an external, independent investigation of the Elijah McClain case. The announcement of the review comes on the same day that the McClain family announced a federal lawsuit filed against Aurora, the Aurora Police Department and others.

Elijah McClain (credit: CBS)

Aurora will conduct the review with 21CP Solutions, what the city calls "a global firm of experts in the areas of civil rights and public safety."

The review will include a closer look at nearly every aspect inside the Aurora Police Department, including, "the department's leadership structure; elevating the role of community policing and engagement; assessing current policies and practices with respect to use of force, discriminatory policing and bias-free policing practices; officer misconduct and accountability; stops, searches and arrests; recruitment, hiring and retention; interaction with vulnerable populations; and crisis intervention and interactions with individuals experiencing behavioral health challenges."

City Manager Jim Twombly said in a statement, "We must serve the Aurora community in a way that recognizes and honors our diversity. That requires us taking a hard look at how we do things in order to build an agency that the community trusts. These changes are of the utmost urgency to the city, and most importantly, the community."

Aurora Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson said in a statement, "We embrace this opportunity for change and are committed to evolve for the betterment of our profession, our community and the residents we serve. Law enforcement is being evaluated across the nation and we want to ensure that our entire community feels that APD is an agency that shows dignity and respect and can be a role model for 21st Century policing. We will strive daily to regain the trust in our community. I believe this review, along with actionable policy and training changes, is a good first step."

Wilson was named the new chief of the Aurora Police Department last week after serving as the department's interim chief. She said last week that she is committed to rebuilding the public's trust by empowering police to veer away from strict training protocols and think about whether they are acting on their biases. This comes on the heels of another incident involving Aurora police and Black people.

aurora police video
(credit: Jenni Wurtz)

Aurora's first female chief, who is white, said the scene filmed by a bystander of the girls lying face down on the ground earlier this month next to a car that police thought was stolen was "inhumane and just unbelievable to watch." Two of the girls are in handcuffs and a 6-year-old girl wearing a pink crown cries for her mother.

(credit: Aurora)

McClain died a few days after an encounter with Aurora police in August 2019 in which he was restrained, handcuffed, placed face down on the ground and then given a dose of ketamine after a woman called to report that he looked suspicious. The 23-year-old was unarmed, walking home from the store where he had purchased tea for his brother.

The Aurora Police Department has also been criticized for the way they handled protests during a Justice for Elijah rally near the Aurora Municipal Center earlier this summer.

AURORA POLICE REFORM 10 PKG.transfer_frame_296
(credit: CBS)

On the same day Aurora announced the review of the police department, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser's office confirmed an ongoing investigation into the Aurora Police Department.

The AG's office provided this statement to CBS4: "To clarify information that is in the public domain, the Attorney General's Office is confirming that, for several weeks now, it has been investigating patterns and practices of the Aurora Police Department that might deprive individuals of their constitutional rights under state or federal law. This patterns and practice investigation, authorized by SB20-217, is in addition to a separate investigation the office is conducting into the death of Elijah McClain. In order to maintain the impartiality and integrity of these investigations, the Attorney General's Office has no further comment at this time."

According to the City of Aurora, other review efforts underway are:

  • An external, independent investigation of the Elijah McClain case examining the actions of police, firefighters and paramedics. This team-based review is being led by Jonathan Smith, who is executive director of the Washington Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
  • The Community Police Task Force, which is tasked with reviewing current police operations and procedures and making recommendations about community engagement and potential community input on critical incidents, such as civilian oversight. The task force includes leaders and advocates from the community of faith, NAACP, criminal justice reform organizations, educators and Aurora Key Community Response Team, as well as other individuals from the community.
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