AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — The mother of Elijah McClain, a Black man who was killed in Aurora after a police altercation and after being injected with ketamine in 2019, said she is disappointed that the police chief, Vanessa Wilson, has been ousted.
“I’m afraid that there’s going to be more people getting killed in Aurora,” said Sheneen McClain, Elijah’s mother, who filed a lawsuit against the city and settled for $15 million.
Wilson became the police chief after Elijah’s death.
“I don’t think that them firing her is going to make the situation better. I actually think it’s going to make it worse,” McClain said. “That just proves that they don’t want to change. It proves that they want all the control in the man’s hands. You know?”
Aurora chief led police department through reforms
Following Elijah’s death, Wilson implemented various reforms, including the “A New Way” plan, aimed at building trust with the community through accountability and transparency.
The department also hired a civil rights public safety consulting firm to help change the department culture.
Wilson also publicly terminated 15 police officers since she became chief.
An attorney general’s investigation into McClain’s death found a pattern and practice of civil rights violations at the police department, leading the city to enter into a consent decree with the state.
“We’re not going to shy away from reform, and I can tell you the officers out on the street are doing it with duty, honor, integrity and realizing there will be accountability,” Wilson said in November when the agreement was announced.
McClain said Wilson, the first female police chief in Aurora, had made progress in the community.
“For a woman who’s never had that position before to come in and make all those drastic changes — and she’s listened to the community. She’s actually going out there and talking to the community. She doesn’t feel like her job makes her better than anyone, and for them to take that out of the community of Aurora, I think that’s appalling,” McClain said.
“I’m pretty sure anybody else they may want to put in her position is somebody that they can pat each other’s back with. You know? She’s made so many significant changes with the people and communities in Aurora, Colorado, for them to take that away from Aurora, Colorado, for them to take away Elijah’s legacy, like it means nothing, something has to be done about that.”
Despite officer pushback, questions of timing
However, Wilson received pushback from officers, and both police unions representing officers expressed “no confidence” in the chief.
Qusair Mohamedbhai, McClain’s attorney, also released a statement Wednesday morning following the announcement of Wilson’s firing. Mohamedbhai also represents Kyle Vinson, a citizen who was strangled and pistol-whipped by an Aurora police officer.
“Sheneen McClain and Kyle Vinson are very alarmed after learning of Aurora City Council’s suspicious termination of Police Chief Wilson. Aurora is already regressing soon after the ink has dried on the consent decree,” he said. “McClain and Vinson recognize Chief Wilson’s efforts to engage with community, and they both demand Aurora stop undoing efforts to combat systemic racist and violent policing. Aurora has unfortunately not learned from the recent $15 million Elijah McClain settlement.”
The agreement required the city to make significant changes in racial bias and diversity training, use-of-force policies, record keeping, and transparency under the watch of an independent monitor.
Former Aurora representative weighs in
Former state Sen. Nancy Todd, a Democrat who represented Aurora’s District 28, responded to Wilson’s firing.
“Terry & I listened to the press conference on the firing of chief wilson today. We worked with her with our Aurora Youth 4 Success (AY4S) program for over 6 years and supported her as the police chief. We are very disappointed in the action taken by the city manager today. At this time of increased crime, it is not , in our opinion, the time to change leadership. Please know WE support Chief Wilson and are very aware of some internal issues within the department. That’s the time to Work Together, not divide & fire!! As former CCSD teachers we value the relationship of law enforcement and our youth to build a stronger city. As a former State Senator I believe we need strong leaders like Vanessa Wilson to create a more positive and healthy view of how the public perceives law enforcement. Aurora has been known as a city that comes together under adversity, and this type of action tears us apart! A career APD officer deserves better respect & treatment !
Hon Nancy & Terry Todd”