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'Elijah McClain Should Still Be Here': Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson Responds To Report Calling For Major Changes

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)- The Aurora Police Department and Aurora Fire Department responded on Tuesday to an independent review into the death of Elijah McClain. The report was released on Monday morning and recommended major changes within the police force and how officers communicate with paramedics and other first responders.

Elijah McClain (credit: CBS)

The 157-page report goes into extensive detail about the August 2019 death of McClain following an encounter with Aurora police. It states that emergency crews mishandled the response. The 23-year-old was walking home from a convenience store wearing a ski mask when someone called 911 to report a suspicious person.

Arriving officers tried to arrest McClain, who resisted and was not armed. Officers then put him in a carotid hold and he was tackled to the ground. Eventually, an Aurora Fire Department paramedic injected him with ketamine, a sedative. He suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital and was taken off life support days later.

"Elijah McClain should still be here today. Nothing I can say here today, or changes that I've made or changes that I will continue to make can bring him back. And for that I am extremely sorry," said Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson. "I want to assure the McClain family and the community that we will continue to make changes with the issues that were not only highlighted in this report, but are also going to be highlighted in the other investigations that are ongoing to include the investigation by the AG's office."

The report found the officers who stopped McClain never "articulated" if he was suspected of a crime, and the panel wrote there was no evidence to justify a pat down that led to a takedown.

The three officers involved in McClain's death were removed from patrol duty in June 2020 and District Attorney Dave Young's official review on the situation found no crime was committed by police. Officers Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema remain employed by the department, but Jason Rosenblatt has since been fired.

(credit: Aurora)

Wilson said the current review board within the Aurora Police Department was lacking in its ability to investigate cases. She said that they have instituted a Force Investigations Unit that will be better equipped to fully investigate incidents.

"I know trust is broken, I know we have a long way to go," said Wilson.

The report finds that Aurora police's internal investigation following McClain's death "was flawed and failed to meaningfully develop a fulsome record." It's one of many strong criticisms the report's authors included. Problems with racial equity and the use of ketamine were also brought up as a concern.

It also highlighted a need for identifying policies with implicit bias. The panel's research found patterns of implicit bias within the Aurora Police Department that included: the perception of people of color as more threatening, perception people of color have unusual strength, and indifference to the effect of officer's use of force on people of color and the pain they experience.

Aurora Fire Rescue also discussed changes in the department in response to the report, specifically the medication, ketamine, that was given to McClain.

"Before the moratorium, physicians on our team reviewed every administered dose of ketamine. Now, to enhance the review of care provided in those situations, physicians have expanded their ongoing reviews to include all patient care reports when restraints are applied or medications are used to sedate patients," said Aurora Fire Chief Fernando Gray.



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