Force review board clears Aurora officers involved in altercation; department gets new body cam holsters

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AURORA, Colo. — An Aurora Police Department force review board found the officers involved in a rough altercation with a man who later died acted “in compliance” with department policies and tactics.

“The officers that day did exactly what we train them to do,” said Vanessa Wilson, the interim Aurora police chief, who was not on the review board.

Officers said they used a carotid hold on Elijah McClain, 23, that might have caused him to temporarily lose consciousness during the scuffle.

One officer alleged McClain tried to reach for another officer’s gun after they confronted McClain for wearing a black ski mask as he walked down the street. After the altercation, a paramedic injected McClain with the sedative, ketamine, and moments later, McClain went into cardiac arrest.

A few days later, he died.

A coroner could neither rule out the carotid hold nor the ketamine, among other things, as possible contributors to McClain’s death.

“(The officers) used the tactics that we are currently training…when someone feels that someone is going for their gun, that’s going to have a response to stop them or to subdue them from doing that, and so I’m comfortable with that,” said Wilson, “but I’m not done looking into things. I’m not done looking into things that we can do differently in the future.”

Fourteen people sat on the force review board, including a division chief, a commander, three lieutenants, five sergeants and four police officers.

Wilson said the city of Aurora will conduct a second investigation of the incident that will review the protocols of both the police and fire departments.

She said Eric Daigle, an attorney with national experience working on police misconduct and civil rights cases, would lead the effort. Two citizens will also participate in the review.

“We are looking at — with the fire department as well as the police department — how do we communicate when we have a suspect that is having a medical issue? How do we communicate with one another? How do we move forward in the future? So, we are going to be doing that review,” said Wilson.

Wilson told the FOX31 Problem Solvers the Aurora Police Department obtained new body-worn camera holsters last month after department leaders expressed concerned that cameras were falling off of officers’ uniforms.

The three officers involved in the altercation with McClain each said their body cameras fell off during the fight.

On Thursday evening, McClain’s family’s attorney Mari Newman sent the following statement:

“Aurora has just released a statement to the media claiming that officers followed Aurora’s policy and training when they killed Elijah McClain, an innocent young man who was not suspected of any crime, had no weapon, had no criminal history, and had done absolutely nothing wrong. He was just trying to walk home. 

APD officers confronted this innocent, unarmed man by immediately going hands on, grabbing Elijah, throwing him down, applying a carotid choke hold—twice—and continuing to inflict multiple other types of force even after Elijah’s hands were cuffed behind his back. As Elijah lay crying, begging, and then vomiting, an APD officer (threatened) to unleash a dog to attack him. Outrageously, Aurora has concluded that this force was ‘within policy and consistent with training.’ The community should be horrified.

Aurora keeps promising ‘transparency,’ but tonight’s late hour press release is yet another example of Aurora doing its best to keep Elijah’s family and the community in the dark.

We are disappointed, but not surprised, that once again, Aurora has condoned its officers’ killing of an unarmed black man.”

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