Hundreds of thousands of signatures ask to reopen McClain case, not enough for DA to issue charges

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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — The district attorney who initially reviewed the investigation into the death of Elijah McClain said he will not be influenced by the hundreds of thousands of petition signatures asking for the case to be reopened.

“Unfortunately, we don’t base our filing decisions on signatures, and I know that there is a lot of passion and there should be a lot of passion in the country right now surrounding the events that are going on, but I can only base my decision on evidence and what we can prove and what we can’t prove in the court of law with a jury of 12,” said Dave Young, the district attorney for the 17th Judicial District, which serves Broomfield and Adams County.

In November, Young chose not to file charges against the three officers who were involved in an altercation with Elijah McClain before he died. At least two officers told investigators they used or attempted to use a carotid hold on McClain after they alleged 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.

“My role is not to determine whether what officers did was right or wrong, my role is to determine if our office can prove, without a reasonable doubt, that a criminal charge is present,” Young said.

“If the people are asking for something and the government doesn’t respond and doesn’t hear our voices, then there’s something – they’re doing something wrong,” said Piper Rundell, who launched a change.org petition to have the case against McClain reopened. 

By 2 p.m. Tuesday, the petition had more than 822,000 signatures and continued to climb.

“I honestly did not at all expect what has happened,” said Rundell, 19. “It was like the second day after I created the petition, I had, like, 100 signatures, and I thought it was insane, like, so amazing.”

Rundell said she had attended one protest in which McClain’s case was mentioned, but she didn’t know much about it until her mother came home from a massage one day. McClain worked as a massage therapist before he died.

“Her masseuse actually knew Elijah McClain and was telling my mom about the story – like in tears practically – and my mom came home and told me about it, and I thought, ‘What better way to help the movement right now than to start locally and…create a voice for Elijah in Colorado?'”

Young said he would not consider filing charges now unless he were to be presented with new evidence.

“I appreciate the passion, and I think it is making a difference, but with regards to filing decisions, I can’t take that into consideration or the criminal justice system just wouldn’t work if we based our decisions on people’s public opinions and not what the facts and the evidence show,” Young said.

Members of Aurora City Council’s Public Safety, Courts, & Civil Service Commission policy committee sent a letter to the city manager, requesting an independent investigation.  

“We call upon our city manager to conduct an independent investigation into the death of Elijah McClain using a neutral third party,” they said in a letter.

“We know that the status quo is no longer acceptable in our criminal justice system. Our community has experienced pain and as leaders it is our responsibility to take the first step in restoring public trust,” the letter, signed by Allison Hiltz, Curtis Gardner and Angela Lawson said.

“We’d like to caution the public before drawing conclusions regarding any desired outcome of an independent investigation – while no outcome is guaranteed, a review is intended to lend greater transparency and accountability to the events that occurred. In addition, we are committed to using the findings to inform policy changes in Aurora that may help prevent a repeat in the future,” the letter continued.

The council members also said they planned to review the police department’s use-of-force directives and other training standards related to de-escalation and mediation.

“The fact that law enforcement accountability is only driven by public attention shows just how broken the system is,” said Mari Newman, the attorney who represents McClain’s family. 

“Law enforcement officers should be held accountable for murdering an innocent young man, and it shouldn’t depend on their being a massive public outcry. The investigators and district attorney should do the right thing at the outset. The public should not have to tell them to do their jobs,” she said.

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