Elijah McClain’s family files lawsuit against the City of Aurora

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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — The family of Elijah McClain has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Aurora and several other police, fire and medical personnel.

McClain, 23, died nearly a year ago after an altercation with three police officers and after being sedated with ketamine.

“We have filed this civil rights lawsuit to demand justice for Elijah McClain, to hold accountable the Aurora officials, police officers, and paramedics responsible for his murder, and to force the City of Aurora to change it longstanding pattern of brutal and racist policing,” said Mari Newman, the attorney who represents the McClain family.

The suit individually names multiple Aurora police officers who were on the scene the night McClain lost consciousness as defendants, including the three who confronted him during his walk home — Randy Roedema, Nathan Woodyard and Jason Rosenblatt — and the K-9 officer who threatened to allow his dog to bite McClain if he didn’t comply with officers’ commands.

“Every single Aurora police officer and sergeant who failed to intervene to stop the torture is responsible and has to be held accountable,” said Newman.

Newman included a transcript of what she believes were McClain’s final words at the start of her court filing as a reminder of who McClain was.

“It just is heart-wrenching, and we can’t lose sight of what happened to this incredible, innocent soul, who was murdered at the hands of brutal thugs,” said Newman.

Here’s the transcript:

“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe please. I can’t. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe, please
stop. [Groans of pain]. I have my ID right here. I have my ID right (inaudible). My
name is Elijah McClain. That’s all. That’s what I was doing. I was just going home.
I’m an introvert and I’m different. [Sobbing]. I just (inaudible). I’m just different.
I’m just different, that’s all. That’s all I was doing. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I
don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why were you attacking me? I don’t do
guns. I don’t even kill flies. I don’t eat meat…. I am [ ] a vegetarian. I don’t judge
people for anything. I try to live (inaudible), and I respect all life. Forgive me. All
I was trying to do was become better…. But I’ll do it. I’ll do it. …. To help all life.
I will do (inaudible). Even if I have to sacrifice my identity. I’ll do it. I’ll do it. You
all are phenomenal. You are beautiful. [Groans of pain]. Forgive me. …. [Cry of
pain]. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow. Ow, that really hurt. You guys are very strong.
Teamwork makes the dream work. [Sobbing]. Ow that hurts. (Multiple very quiet,
inaudible statements). Oh yeah I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that. I can’t breathe
correctly because— [Vomiting] …. Ok, ok…I can’t sense myself. Ow! Ah! Ow!
Stop please!… I’m trying…. Please help me.”

The complaint also names a fire lieutenant and a paramedic – Pete Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper — who were involved in sedating McClain with the drug ketamine before he went into cardiac arrest — as well as Aurora Fire Rescue’s medical director, Dr. Eric Hill.

Hill holds the state medical waiver that allows Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics to administer ketamine to patients who are extremely agitated.

“He clearly was failing his jobs miserably,” said Newman of Hill’s oversight responsibility.

The drug administration ahead of McClain’s death is being re-reviewed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment despite a previous review that found nothing to support action against Hill’s medical certificate.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers reached out to Hill and to Aurora Fire Rescue, but we have yet to hear back. In March, Hill said ketamine is given for the “safety of the patient as well as for the safety of the responders on the call.” 

The City of Aurora told the FOX31 Problem Solvers it is reviewing the 106-page lawsuit and announced today that it is undertaking a “comprehensive review of the Aurora Police Department,” aimed at developing a common goal of a new vision of public safety.

“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,” said Jim Twombly, the Aurora city manager.

The City will be working with a global firm, 21CP Solutions. Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said the comprehensive review will be a “good first step.”

“We embrace this opportunity for change and are committed to evolve for the betterment of our profession, our community and the residents we serve,” she said. “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.”

The lawsuit, filed days after Aurora police officers forced several Black children to lay face-down in a parking lot during a mistaken stolen car investigation, alleges excessive force and a pattern of racial bias against Black citizens.

“Aurora’s custom, policy, and practice of unconstitutional racist brutality is reflected in its recent conduct as well. The City of Aurora refuses even basic accountability, having failed to fire or even discipline anyone in relation to Elijah’s death. Instead, the City has acted aggressively to lash out at and deflect those who insist on justice for Elijah,” the complaint says.

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office announced Monday it is also investigating allegations of patterns and practices of civil rights violations at the Aurora Police Department.

It issued the following statement:

“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.”

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