Activists are renewing a call for justice for Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man killed by police last year in Aurora, CO. On August 24, 2019, McClain—a vegetarian who had anemia and often wore a ski mask for warmth—was returning home from a convenience store, listening to music and, according to friends, likely dancing along. A caller alerted the police that McClain looked “sketchy” because he was walking and flailing his arms. A group of police officers responded by restraining McClain, who was not being ascertained for any crime and did not carry a weapon, and pushed him against a wall before applying a carotid chokehold (which was legal in Aurora at the time). The police officers, who claim that the man was reaching for one of their guns, held McClain down on the ground for 15 minutes before calling paramedics to administer the sedative ketamine. Shortly thereafter, McClain became unresponsive and went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital where he was declared brain dead and taken off of life support on August 30, 2019. An autopsy conducted at the time came back inconclusive as to the cause of McClain’s death and the three arresting officers—Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema—along with the paramedic, were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Videos taken at the scene by dislodged police body cameras revealed McClain’s last words as multiple officers restrained him. “I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain,” the 140-pound-man said. “That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different, that’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies. I don’t eat meat. I’m a vegetarian. But I don’t judge people. And I respect all life. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity. I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful. And I love you. Try to forgive me … I just can’t breathe correctly.” McClain then began to vomit multiple times. “If you keep messing around, I’ll bring my dog out here and he’s going to dog bite you,” one officer said as McClain continued to cry.
Attorney Mari Newman—who represents the McClain family—described the horrific killing of the man during a press conference in October. “Elijah, a peaceful person, said, ‘Please respect my personal space.’ That’s what he said. But they didn’t do that,” Newman said. “They slammed him up against the wall, they tackled him to the ground, and they continued to terrorize and torture him for 15 minutes. Even as he was laying on the ground, fully restrained, they continued to use force against him—so much force that he was laying on the ground vomiting.” According to various accounts of his life from those that knew him, McClain was a gentle and caring animal lover who often played his violin for homeless cats and dogs because he feared that they felt lonely.
In light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, another unarmed Black man killed by police, activists are demanding that McClain’s case be reopened. A petition on Change.org launched three weeks ago demanding justice for McClain has gained more than two million signatures to date.
This month, Interim Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson passed a ban on the use of the carotid chokehold and issued a “duty-to-intervene” policy that requires officers to step in if they witness other officers using force that is “beyond objectively reasonable.” After pressure from the public and local council members, the city of Aurora is seeking a new independent investigator into McClain’s case after attorney Eric Daigle—a former Connecticut police officer—was removed from the third-party investigation due to his bias in previously defending the interests of law enforcement agencies.
Currently, Newman and the McClain family are working to file a lawsuit against the city of Aurora and its police department over the police killing of McClain.