David Zalubowski / AP
DENVER – A civil rights investigation launched amid outrage over Elijah McClain’s death has revealed that the Aurora Police Department has a pattern of racist biased police, Colorado’s attorney general said Wednesday.
Attorney General Phil Weiser said the investigation found that the department has long had a culture where officers treat colored people – especially black people – differently than white people. He said the agency also has a pattern of using illegal excessive force; often escalates encounters with civilians; and fails to properly document police interactions with residents.
“These actions are unacceptable. They harm the people for whom law enforcement is entrusted,” he said.
Weiser called on the police department to commit to recommended reforms in officers’ training, its policies on the use of force, and in particular stricter standards for police stops and arrests. If it does not, he said his office will seek a court order forcing the department to do so – but he noted that the department cooperated fully in the investigation.
David Zalubowski / AP
Police stopped McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, as he walked home from a store on August 24, 2019, after a 911 caller reported a man wearing a ski mask waving his hands that appeared “outlined.”
Officers put McClain in a stranglehold and pinned him down. Paramedics injected him with 500 milligrams of ketamine, an amount appropriate for a person who was 35 kilograms heavier than McClain’s 143 kilogram (64 kilograms) frame, according to an indictment. He fell unconscious, was declared brain dead in a hospital and was taken by lifeguard.
The state civil rights survey, announced in August 2020, was the first of its kind under a sweeping law on political accountability passed in Colorado the month before amid protests over the killings of McClain and George Floyd.
Weiser said his office wants a state agreement with Aurora, called a consent decree, to be submitted to a court. The decree would specify what the city and department should do to meet his investigation recommendations.
Sheneen McClain, the single mother who raised Elijah, said she participated in the state investigation, welcomed its findings and urged police to work with Weiser’s office.
“It’s just awful that it takes my son’s death for the Aurora police to change what they’ve been doing for a long time in this community,” she said. “Front and center: Elijah would still be here if the system worked as it should. My son’s death could be prevented, and it’s really sad that it took all this to get justice done and make sure it does not happen for one. other.”
“The report confirms what many Aurora residents already know: Aurora’s police department has a long-standing culture of violence and bias,” said Sheneen McClain’s lawyer, Qusair Mohamedbhai.
The Colorado Police Liability Act made it illegal for police officers or other government officials to deprive people of their constitutional rights and gave the attorney general the power to enforce it.
By law, if the Attorney General finds that an agency has “a pattern or practice” for violating people’s rights, the Attorney General must notify the Agency of the reasons for this belief and give it 60 days to make changes. If the agency does not make changes, the public prosecutor can sue to force them.
Weiser’s office is also prosecuting three police officers and two paramedics for manslaughter, criminal negligent homicide and assault in McClain’s death. He convened a grand jury to decide whether to indict criminal charges after he was ordered to take another look at the case by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis amid last year’s protests.
The grand jury charged all five.
Aurora police were also criticized when officers last year put four black girls on the ground and handcuffed two of them next to a car that police suspected had been stolen, but it turned out not to be.
And an officer was charged with assault in July after being caught on camera with video pistol whipping and strangling a black man during an arrest. Another officer was charged with failing to intervene as required by the new Police Act.
McClain’s parents have filed a lawsuit alleging that police treatment of McClain was part of a pattern of racist biased police that has involved aggression and violence against black people.
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