Was Elijah McClain wrongfully murdered? Experts discuss his death
A panel of medical and legal experts, led by the Aurora City Council, found that the Colorado police and paramedics who stopped Elijah McClain in 2019, made a series of errors that resulted in the 23-year-old’s death.
The independent probe found Aurora police had no justification to stop or forcibly detain McClain and that paramedics sedated him with ketamine “without conducting anything more than a brief visual observation.”
What went wrong
Elijah McClain was walking home from visiting a local convenience store with a ski mask over his head on August 24th, 2019. His family claims McClain suffered from anemia and would wear the mask at night during the summer so he wouldn’t get cold.
One day, a neighbor saw McClain in his ski mask, flailing his arms and called the police, though they said they didn’t believe McClain was armed or that anyone was in danger. Police reports say that McClain resisted when officers confronted him.
Visual body cameras were off for most of the altercation, though audio was still on and captured McClain in distress. For the fifteen minutes three officers held him down, McClain was crying and complaining about not being able to breathe. At one point, he apologized for vomiting due to lack of air. The probe noted the decision [to stop McClain] had ramifications for the rest of the encounter.
Because of McClain’s distress paramedics arrived on the scene and administered McClain ketamine to calm him down. McClain, who weighed 140 pounds, was given enough ketamine for someone fifty pounds heavier. The probe confirmed that the paramedics did not make their own observations, instead going off of what the officers told them.
“Aurora Fire appears to have accepted the officers’ impression that Mr. McClain had excited delirium without corroborating that impression through meaningful observations or diagnostic examination of Mr. McClain,” the report said.
“EMS administered a ketamine dosage based on a grossly inaccurate and inflated estimate of Mr. McClain’s size. Higher doses can carry a higher risk of sedation complications, for which this team was clearly not prepared.” McClain suffered cardiac arrest and was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced brain dead the next day and died three days later.
Though the probe finds the officers and paramedic on the scene responsible for Elijah McClain, the report does blame “implicit racial bias” for his death. “In looking at this single incident, the panel has insufficient information to determine what role, if any, bias played in Aurora Police officers’ and EMS personnel’s encounter with McClain,” the report said.
This is not a win for those accused, however, because there was a caveat. “However, research indicates that factors such as increased perception of threat, perception of extraordinary strength, perception of higher pain tolerance, and misperceptions of age and size can be indicative of bias,” said the panel of experts.
The probe also found that the Aurora Police Department, itself “failed to ask basic, critical questions about the justification for the use of force.” The report also stated that internal affairs didn’t review the incident.
Over the summer, in wake of protests for George Flloyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and calls for police reform, Colorado became the first state to end “qualified immunity,” the legal foundation which shields government employees and police officers from being held responsible in civil court.
Statements from the Aurora Police Departments regarding the probe have not been made yet. Both the police and fire department unions have also remained silent to the panel’s findings. The Aurora City Council will meet at 5 pm today to discuss the findings and next steps.