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Independent Investigation Into Elijah McClain's Death Complete, Major Aurora Police Changes Recommended

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - An independent investigation into the death of Elijah McClain recommends major changes to how the Aurora Police Department handles use of force cases. The report released Monday morning does not, however, provide a recommendation about whether the two of the officers who were involved in the arrest should lose their jobs.

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 with ski goggles on 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 pulled off life support days later.

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.

Lawayne Mosley, McClain's father, told CBS4's Rick Sallinger the police acted wrongly.

"Shouldn't have put your hands on him, put your hands on him you killed him."

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 use of ketamine were also brought up as a concern, and the Associated Press reports that the DA is criticized in the report for the fact that his review didn't consider a statute in Colorado which requires that officers have reasonable suspicion that someone committed crime when they stop someone.

"These facts trouble the Panel. However, it was not our charge to assess whether misconduct occurred; rather, our task was simply to report what we could learn from the record and make policy recommendations," the authors of the report wrote.

Mari Newman, the attorney for Mosley said, "Aurora violated the law from the very inception of when they first encountered Elijah Mcclain up through all of the torture."

The main recommendations for the police department include "Review policy, training, and supervision regarding use of force and arrest practices," and "Improve accountability systems, including more effective review by Major Crime and mandatory review by Internal Affairs."

"In addition, the Panel identified a need for the City to review its policies, practices, training, and culture regarding implicit bias."

The findings point to issues with the amount of time it took for McClain to get medical help. It states he was vomiting and complaining about difficulty breathing. It states that Aurora Fire Department responders "stood back and did not render aid to Mr. McClain for several minutes, until a paramedic administered ketamine." Another of the major recommendations as a result is for the department to "clarify and strengthen the transition of an individual from suspect to patient when EMS is called."

Mosley wasn't surprised at what the investigation found, "They said what we have been saying all along. Aurora has got problems."

On Monday night the City of Aurora held a special City Council session where the report was presented by the team who ran the independent investigation. A formal news conference is also planned for Tuesday which can be watched on CBSN Denver.

The report was conducted by a team led by Jonathan Smith who worked in the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights division and did a report on the Ferguson, Missouri police department conduct after the shooting death of Michael Brown which occurred in 2014. Smith now heads the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. He was chosen after a previous pick's background was deemed too favorable towards police and cities.

A separate investigation into McClain's death by a grand jury is also underway on the state level, as is a civil rights investigation into APD. A federal review of the McClain case for possible civil rights violations is also ongoing.

elijah mcclain aurora police photo 2
(courtesy: Aurora Police)

Earlier this month the Aurora Civil Service Commission upheld the terminations of officers who took pictures near where McClain was detained before his death. One photo shows the officers reenacting the carotid hold used on McClain. The photo doesn't depict Rosenblatt, but he was fired after the image was sent to him and his response was "Haha."

Elijah's mother, Sheneen McClain, released a statement through her lawyers reacting to the report. It reads, in part, Ms. Sheneen McClain is relieved that the truth surrounding the death of her son is finally coming to light. In exactly three days, Elijah McClain would be celebrating his 25th birthday.

The independent investigation that was commissioned and paid for by Aurora makes clear what was already known: Elijah should never have been stopped by the police, never have been arrested, never have been subjected to extreme force by the police and should never have been forcibly injected with ketamine by Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics. Aurora is responsible for Elijah's tragic death by virtue of its employees unlawful and unconscionable actions.

We applaud the independent review panel's objective, studious, and comprehensive investigation into the events of August 24, 2019. At every step of the way -- from their initial stop of Elijah through the involuntary injection of an extremely dangerous drug for no medical reason -- Aurora officials indisputably violated Mr. McClain's constitutional rights.

The Report details a cascade of unlawful actions committed by Aurora police officers, particularly Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema, and Jason Rosenblatt. On August 24, 2019, these officers seized and then brutalized Elijah for the offense of walking home while Black. Without any suspicion that Elijah committed a crime, these officers unlawfully seized Elijah, detained him, tackled him to the ground, applied multiple carotid holds, which cut off oxygen to the brain and are intended to render the subject unconscious, and then applied a continuous stream of pain compliance techniques while Elijah lay handcuffed on the ground.

Rep. Jason Crow released the following statement after the publication of Aurora's independent review into the death of Elijah McClain: "No report or investigation can bring back Elijah or ease his family's pain. We failed Elijah and his family and we must learn from this injustice. The results of Aurora's independent investigation make it clear that the police should not have stopped, frisked, or used a chokehold.

"As we wait for the results of additional investigations, we must all work to reform the broken system that has allowed racial injustice, police brutality, and widespread inequality to go unchecked for far too long. Together, we will continue this movement and do the necessary work to create a more just society."

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