DENVER (KDVR) — Gov. Jared Polis announced Thursday afternoon that he has signed an executive order appointing Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser as a special prosecutor to investigate the death of Elijah McClain.
“I was moved by speaking with Elijah’s mother and her description of her son as a responsible and curious child who became a vegetarian to be healthier, and who could inspire the darkest soul. His friends describe him as a gentle peacemaker who worked as a massage therapist and enjoyed playing the violin. Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern,” Polis said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Polis announced he had instructed his legal counsel to examine the investigation into the case.
The governor said Thursday that as a father, his heart breaks for McClain’s family.
“All Coloradans should be safe walking home from the convenience store, or just being in their own neighborhoods listening to headphones. Unfortunately, I know that is not how many people — especially young people of color — feel in our state today, because I’ve heard it from them directly. We need to do a better job, and at a bare minimum they deserve a thorough review of the case,” Polis said.
An attorney for the McClain family, Mari Newman, said she was appreciative of the governor’s involvement.
“He talked to the McClain family, and I can tell from his statement that he heard them. I am disappointed, of course, that it took millions of outraged citizens and international media pressure for anybody to pay attention,” she said.
McClain was 23 years old when he died following an altercation with Aurora police in August 2019.
In November, District Attorney Dave Young chose not to file charges against the three officers who were involved the altercation. At least two officers told investigators they used or attempted to use a carotid hold on McClain after they said he tried to grab an officer’s gun.
A coroner could not rule out multiple possibilities – including the officers’ actions – as contributors to McClain’s death. Paramedics also injected McClain with the sedative ketamine when they arrived on the scene.
The three white officers initially approached McClain, who is Black, as he was walking home from a convenience store because he was wearing a mask, and a 911 caller reported that McClain looked suspicious.
McClain was not committing a crime and did not have a weapon when officers approached him.
Following the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there have been growing demands to fire and charge the officers and paramedics involved in McClain’s death.
Weiser said he would conduct a thorough investigation, guided by facts, and “worthy of public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.”
“Elijah McClain should be alive today. His life mattered and his death was tragic. The pain, frustration, and anger that his family and many Coloradans are feeling from his death is understandable and justified. Whenever someone dies after an encounter with law enforcement, the community deserves a thorough investigation,” he said in a statement.
Weiser said he was also looking forward to working with the City of Aurora, which is preparing for its own independent investigation.
“We support their efforts and encourage them to take the necessary time so that their effort is truly independent and effective,” he said.
Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said he hopes the council will debate and vote on a scope of their investigation at an upcoming meeting.
“It’s really important to bring closure,” said Coffman.
He said he told the governor that he hoped the two investigations would be complementary.