AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Nearly a year after Elijah McClain died following an altercation with Aurora police, national and international calls for an investigation have made their way to lawmakers and law enforcement in Colorado.
The 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has received more than 10,000 phone calls and 2,000 emails asking for the three officers linked to McClain’s death to be charged. TV host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres also tweeted about the case, calling for justice for McClain.
CBS4 first reported about the death following an altercation between McClain and the officers in Aurora in August of 2019. Someone called 911 to report McClain was “acting odd” and wearing a ski mask as he walked home. The caller told dispatch McClain was not armed, and had not committed a crime.
When officers made contact with McClain, he told them he had done nothing wrong. He was returning home from buying tea at a convenience store.
After McClain told officers he hadn’t done anything wrong, officers attempted to stop him and physically grabbed him. McClain was eventually tackled by one of three officers, and placed in a choke hold. McClain is heard in body camera video telling officers he wasn’t resisting.
He also told them he was an introvert, a vegetarian and was unable to hurt a fly.
The body cameras of multiple officers were dislodged. At one point, after noticing a body camera is on the floor, one officer is heard telling another “move your camera, dude.”
“I’m surprised how long it has taken for the world to take notice of this case,” said Mari Newman, the McClain family’s attorney.
McClain was not armed, had not committed a crime and was wearing a ski mask for personal comfort. His family said, due to some previous issues, it wasn’t uncommon for McClain to wear a mask to give him comfort and ease.
McClain was given a high dosage of ketamine by paramedics, which a coroner later determined caused McClain to have two heart attacks.
In November, CBS4’s Dillon Thomas covered a protest outside the Aurora Municipal Center. An estimated 25 to 35 people attended, and called for the police department to arrest the officers involved. Even as CBS4, and Thomas, continued to follow the case, the attention it received from those not directly affiliated with McClain seemed to fade. However, following the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, McClain’s story was suddenly propelled into the spotlight. In a matter of weeks McClain’s story was shared online millions of times. More than 2 million people have signed a Change.org petition for the officers involved to be charged.
“It is very disappointing that it took the murder of somebody across the country for people here in Colorado to finally take notice. But, it is happening,” Newman said.
McClain’s story has since become a major topic of discussion on social media, especially on platforms like Instagram which tends to attract younger users. And other celebrities besides DeGeneres have joined the cause.
“It shouldn’t take millions of people signing a petition, and it shouldn’t take international media attention, for elected officials to do their jobs,” Newman said.
After weeks of contact from people across the globe, tracked by CBS4 as far away as Portugal, many Colorado elected officials are now weighing in. Gov. Jared Polis tweeted that he assigned a team to look into the possibilities around investigating the case.
Newman said McClain should not be remembered as a man who was violating any laws, because he hadn’t done anything wrong at the time police responded. Newman hoped McClain would be remembered for being a kind young man, who needlessly died at the age of 23.
“He was an angel among humans. He would go to play his violin on his lunch hour to animals who were waiting to be adopted so they wouldn’t be lonely. This is not a person who should ever have been contacted by law enforcement, much less murdered in cold blood as he was,” Newman said. “The public sees through that dishonesty, sees through that effort to avoid accountability, and is now standing up to say Aurora needs to stand up and do what is right.”
The Aurora Police Department did not fire the officers involved, and returned them to duty. Newman said, as of last check, all three still serve on the streets of Aurora.
On Wednesday, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman called for a special city council meeting to vote on whether to authorize an independent investigation into the case.
Polis also responded to the recent outcry saying on social media, “I am hearing from many Coloradans who have expressed their concerns with the investigation of Elijah McClain’s death. As a result, I have instructed my legal council to examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps.”