Nearly 2 million people have signed an online petition that launched early in June calling for Aurora officials to reopen the investigation into the death of Elijah McClain — a 23-year-old unarmed black man who died in August 2019 following an encounter with Aurora police and paramedics.
The petition calls on Adams County District Attorney Dave Young, along with Mayor Mike Coffman and the Aurora Police Department, to “bring justice for Elijah,” by conducting “a more in-depth” investigation and removing the officers involved from duty.
On June 9, Aurora's interim police chief Vanessa Williams held a press conference to announce the department would ban carotid pressure holds, often referred to as "chokeholds," and implement four other policy changes, all effective immediately.
As of Tuesday, June 23, more than 1.85 million have signed the Change.org petition.
Both Michael Bryant, spokesperson for the city of Aurora, and Officer Matthew Longshore, police department spokesman, have said that the decision to reopen the investigation would have to come from Young's office.
"I don't open up investigations based on petitions," Young told Colorado Politics earlier in June. "Obviously, if there is new evidence to look at, I will look at the evidence in any case.
"But no," he said, "I'm not going to open up an investigation because people are signing a petition."
Three Aurora City Council members have since called on the city manager to launch an independent investigation into McClain's death.
A virtual town hall for Aurora police chief finalists is scheduled from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 23.
In November, Young, the 17th Judicial District Attorney, ruled that criminal charges would not be pressed against officers involved in the detention and arrest of McClain because there was no indisputable evidence that an officer used “unjustified” force.
In February, the Aurora Police Department said force applied during the encounter was consistent with training as determined by a Force Review Board.
McClain encountered police on Aug. 24 while on his way home from buying four cans of Brisk tea at a gas station in Aurora.
Officers put McClain, a Denver native and massage therapist in Aurora, in a chokehold and forced him on the ground for 15 minutes. McClain eventually began vomiting and complained he couldn’t breathe.
“There was a physical struggle,” former APD Chief Nick Metz said in October. “When (police) saw (McClain), they told him to stop. He wouldn’t stop. Again, he was wearing a ski mask, it’s 10:30 p.m. at night in a residential area, so obviously that creates some concern.”
At the time, Metz said that because McClain appeared to be in an “agitated mental state,” police requested backup from Aurora Fire paramedics, who injected McClain with the sedative ketamine to subdue his reported anxiety before driving him to a hospital.
McClain apparently suffered a heart attack, fell into a coma and died once taken off life support Aug. 30.
The May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in custody of white Minneapolis police officers, sparked outrage against police brutality across the country and around the world, including in Aurora.
Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly in February announced that he would be initiating a Critical Incident Review to further examine how Aurora police and fire departments responded in the McClain case.
“That is for an outside, independent review of the details of the case and the policies and procedures that were in place, and whether there were any recommended changes that need to come from that,” Bryant said.
Twombly also said in February that he was launching an audit of APD’s body-worn cameras to "take a critical look at our policies, how well APD complies with policies, laws and best practices related to the use of body-worn cameras, as well as the equipment itself."
In February, Aurora City Council also commissioned a police task force to study police controversies and, if needed, make recommendations around policy changes and establishing civilian oversight, Bryant told Colorado Politics.
The creation of that committee was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, Bryant said, but Coffman requested Aurora City Council hold a special council meeting at 6 p.m. on June 15 in which members are expected to be named.
The task force comes in the wake of multiple high-profile cases involving Aurora police.
The American Civil Liberties Union and others have filed several lawsuits over the years against the city of Aurora over officer-involved shootings, and the city has paid out millions of dollars as a result.
“There is a pattern here that is disturbing,” Denise Maes, public policy director of ACLU Colorado, said in November during a heated town hall discussion about Aurora policing.
The organization, alongside others, has long advocated for an independent authority to monitor police shootings, and Maes said she was “not sure why the city of Aurora has resisted.”