Aurora will pay $15 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit over the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, a Black man who died after he was dosed with ketamine during an encounter with Aurora police and paramedics in 2019.
The settlement amount is likely the largest in Colorado history and among the highest in the country.
“No amount of money can change what happened or erase the pain and heartbreak experienced by the family over his loss,” Jim Twombly, Aurora’s city manager, said in a written statement. “This tragedy has greatly changed and shaped Aurora. In the two years since he died, we have taken a hard look at our policies, our biases and our need to listen to our community. We will not waver from our commitment to have an engaged, involved and heard community, and city departments and agencies that embody the rich, culturally diverse community we serve.”
The settlement was finalized after a mediation hearing between McClain’s family members in U.S. District Court on Friday. Sheneen McClain filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver in August 2020. The defendants include the city of Aurora and about a dozen police officers and fire department employees.
“Ms. McClain raised Elijah as a single mother and his death has left an enormous void in her life,” attorneys for Sheneen McClain wrote in a statement earlier this week. “While nothing will fill that void, Ms. McClain is hopeful that badly needed reforms to the Aurora Police Department will spare other parents in the same heartache.”
Before this, the largest settlement the city paid in police misconduct in the past decade was $2.6 million, according to data from the city. The settlement was reached in 2015 in a wrongful death lawsuit following the shooting death of unarmed Naeschylus Vinzant. He was 27.
The settlement comes after a grand jury returned a 32-count indictment against the Aurora police officers and paramedics who stopped McClain in the encounter before his death. Three police officers and two paramedics were charged with one count of manslaughter and one count of criminally negligent homicide.
Earlier this week, Aurora’s police and fire departments agreed to improve their use-of-force policies and training, build forces more representative of the city’s diversity and implement a new system to collect data about police interactions with members of the community under a consent decree with state prosecutors.
The city’s excess liability insurance policy will cover $10 million of the settlement and the remaining $5 will be paid out of the city’s general fund, the city said in a news release. Aurora city council approved the $15 million settlement agreement during a July executive session meeting after negotiations began earlier this year.