Weiser McClain

In this file photo, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser makes a point at a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Denver. Weiser said a civil rights investigation begun amid outrage over the death of Elijah McClain has ruled that the Aurora, Colo., Police Department has a pattern of racially-biased policing. 

Aurora and the Colorado attorney general announced a stipulated consent agreement on Tuesday afternoon reached to address systemic issues with the city's police and fire departments.

The negotiations for a consent decree arose from a mid-September report by Attorney General Phil Weiser that the police and fire departments have patterns of violating Aurora residents’ rights. Officers have a history of using excessive force and failing to document stops as required by law, the investigation found, and the monthslong probe also determined the city’s fire department has a pattern of using ketamine in violation of the law.

Colorado's policing reform law passed last year, known as Senate Bill 217, allows the state Department of Law to investigate the patterns and practices of government agencies and mandate changes if the investigations find the agency has a history of violating people's civil rights or denying their constitutional protections.

"We're here because of the choice that Aurora made to collaborate with the Department of Law to elevate and improve public safety here in Aurora. This is an important path chosen by the city, and it reflects the principles and the goals of the leaders you'll be hearing from today," Weiser said.

According to Weiser, the framework of the consent decree seeks to:  

  • Address creation of specific guidance on police’s interactions with people to address actual or perceived bias 

  • Improve use-of-force policies and training to avoid unnecessary escalation of encounters 

  • Improve diversity within the police and fire departments 

  • Develop a new system for data collection about police interactions with community members as required by law

  • Require review of policies and practices around chemical sedative use by the fire department to make sure they are used legally before they can be re-introduced  

McClain, 23, died several days after he was forcefully detained and injected with the sedative ketamine, although he was not a suspect in any crime. The dose was too large for McClain.

The fire department discontinued its use of ketamine in September 2020, and Chief Fernando Gray said Tuesday the department does not have plans to begin using it again.  

Police Chief Vanessa Wilson renewed her plea for people not view the whole department negatively, reiterating her view that the actions of a few bad officers have tarnished its reputation. But she acknowledged some officers have taken the news of the decree personally. 

“To the officers on the street, this consent decree is nothing to be afraid of. To the community, I hope this shows you that we are willing to change and are willing to listen to you,” Wilson said in a news conference Tuesday.  

The consent decree is on City Council’s agenda for adoption Monday. It has been filed in Arapahoe County District Court, meaning a judge can enforce the terms if the Attorney General’s Office believes Aurora is not complying. But Weiser and City Manager Jim Twombly said the goal won’t be to look for violations, and instead to use the decree as guidance for Aurora’s good-faith efforts to reform its policing and fire rescue policies. 

“The idea is not a ‘gotcha’ sort of thing or boiling things down to minutiae, but really looking at big-picture improvements that help move us forward,” Twombly said. 

Twombly said should City Council not approve the decree, Weiser’s office would likely pursue a court-ordered agreement.  

Aurora began the search for an independent monitor to oversee the eventual consent decree, a position the city will fund, at the beginning of November. 

The consent decree monitor would be a separate role from an independent monitor Aurora has budgeted to hire in 2022 to oversee discipline and other accountability in the police department, and the special decree position would make reports to the court on only the agreement's progress.

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