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Politics and Government

Colorado governor names special prosecutor to investigate death of Elijah McClain

Move by Polis comes after national attention as Aurora seeks to finalize its own secondary investigation into the incident.

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Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the death of Elijah McClain, the unarmed Black man who died in August after a brutal arrest in Aurora.

“Now more than ever, we must do everything within our power to foster public trust and confidence in law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” Polis said in a statement accompanying the executive order directing Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate and potentially criminally prosecute any individuals whose actions led to the death of McClain.

“We owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern,” Polis wrote.

McClain, 23, was unarmed and walking home when police officers, responding to a report of a suspicious person, confronted him on Aug. 24, 2019, at about 10:30 p.m. A struggle ensued and officers used a carotid-pressure hold, which cuts off blood to the brain, to subdue him.

(Photo provided by Mari Newman, via CBS4)

A responding paramedic gave McClain a ketamine injection, after which McClain stopped breathing and no longer had a pulse. He died on Aug. 30, 2019, after being removed from life support.

On Wednesday, Polis said he had asked his attorneys to examine what steps the state can take in response to McClain’s death.

“I am hearing from many Coloradans who have expressed concerns with the investigation of Elijah McClain’s death,” Polis said in a written statement Wednesday.

McClain has received national attention in recent days on social media, the story of his death added to the roll of Black men and women who have died at the hands of police that has been called out since George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Hundreds of people gathered for a memorial for George Floyd at the Greek amphitheatre in downtown Denver on Thursday, June 4, 2020. (Moe Clark, The Colorado Sun)

The officers and paramedic involved in the McClain’s death were cleared of criminal wrongdoing by 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young.

“There is no evidence that any one of the officers sought to cause injury or death to Mr. McClain,” Young wrote. “Rather, the evidence suggests that they exercised a degree of force they believed necessary to detain him and investigate into his possible criminal activity.”

The city of Aurora, however, is soliciting an independent review of McClain’s death.

In a statement Thursday, Weiser said his office supports Aurora’s investigation.

“We look forward to working with them to the extent possible to ensure accountability and so that important lessons are learned from this tragedy,” he said.

Polis last week signed Senate Bill 217 into law. The measure is a sweeping police accountability bill that came in the wake of Floyd’s death and nationwide protests, including across Colorado. McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, testified in support of the bill.

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