More than 820,000 people have signed an online petition 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 following an encounter with Aurora police.
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.
“We are aware of the petition,” Michael Bryant, spokesperson for the city of Aurora, told Colorado Politics in a phone interview. “But there has not been a public response to that petition yet.”
Click here to see video of the encounter with police.
The Aurora police department also is aware of the petition, the department's spokesman, Officer Matthew Longshore, said.
"We're always reviewing our policies and procedures to see if there's any changes that need to be made," he said. "We're taking this petition into consideration, but we haven't made any determinations at this point."
Both Bryant and Longshore 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 in a phone interview late Monday afternoon. "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."
On Tuesday, Colorado Politics reported that members of Aurora City Council’s safety committee are requesting an independent, third-party investigation into the death of McClain. Read more here.
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 on McClain.
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, where he was then injected with the sedative ketamine, according to a Sentinel Colorado report of the encounter. McClain apparently suffered a heart attack, fell into a coma and died once taken off life support Aug. 30.
The recent death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in custody of white Minneapolis police officers, has sparked outrage against police brutality across the country and around the world, including in Aurora. His death appears to have also strengthened ongoing calls for justice around McClain’s death, as his name can be heard at the ongoing protests happening in Denver and beyond.
By 2 p.m. Tuesday, the online petition had garnered more than 820,000 signatures since it was started by Piper Rundell less than a week ago. The goal of the petition, which was created on Change.org, is to reach one million signatures.
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.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated with the response from Dave Young, the 17th Judicial District Attorney.