Colorado Governor Jared Polis appointed state Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate the death of Elijah McClain’s death, a 23-year-old Black man who died in police custody.
Three officers have been fired and another recently resigned over photos taken at a memorial for Elijah McClain last year, a visibly shaken Aurora, Colorado, Police Department Interim Chief Vanessa Wilson announced Friday.
Wilson called the photos “disturbing.” A photo released by the police department shows three smiling officers, one appearing to put another officer in a chokehold — a restraint which was used on McClain before he died.
Wilson said the photos were sent to other officers, including Jason Rosenblatt, who was one of the white officers who stopped McClain — a 23-year-old Black man who died in police custody last year.
Rosenblatt replied “HaHa” when he received the photo, Wilson said.
Rosenblatt was among three officers who were fired. Also terminated: Erica Marrero and Kyle Dittrich, who were in the photos. Jaron Jones, who reenacted the chokehold in the photo, resigned on Tuesday, Wilson said.
Another officer who was sent the photo but deleted it was not fired, Wilson said.
Resigning was the right thing to do, Wilson said, calling the officer’s conduct a “despicable act … you have embarrassed law enforcement yet again.”
The officers in the photo indicated during the course of the investigation the photo was meant to “cheer up a friend,” Wilson said. Another photo taken at the memorial featuring the three officers was also released in which the smiling officers did not reenact the chokehold.
June 26: Elijah McClain was injected with ketamine before he died. Is that legal?
June 26: Special prosecutor appointed to investigate Elijah McClain’s death after millions sign petition
“We are ashamed, we are sickened, and we are angry,” Wilson said. The officers may not have committed a crime, but the photographs are “a crime against humanity and decency,” she added.
Although the photos were taken last fall, Wilson said in a statement she was made aware of the photos on June 25 through a complaint from another officer. An investigation was quickly launched.
The Aurora Police Association, the union for officers, called the firings “a rush to judgment.” It said on Facebook that the investigation took nine days, while a standard internal affairs case takes months.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday appointed a special prosecutor to re-examine the case following intense public pressure and an online petition that garnered more than 3 million signatures.
“The fact that three on-duty, in-uniform police officers thought that it was appropriate to reenact the murder, jokingly, shows that the department is rotten to the core,” said Mari Newman, the McClain family’s lawyer who saw the photos before they were publicly released. Elijah’s mother, Sheneen McClain, also saw them.
McClain died in August in police custody. The incident occurred after the Aurora Police Department received a call of a “suspicious man” wearing a ski mask, according to a news release. Officers arrived and tried to stop McClain, who they said was “actively resisting” and trying to grab one of their guns. They wrestled him to the ground and put him in a carotid hold, applying pressure around his neck, restricting blood flow to the brain.
June 24: More than 2 million sign ‘Justice For Elijah McClain’ petition nearly a year after his death
McClain briefly went unconscious. The fire department and paramedics were called to assist and injected McClain with ketamine to sedate him.
In more than three hours of body camera footage of the arrest, McClain is held down on the ground, vomiting, sobbing and saying, “I can’t breathe.”
An officer tells McClain, “If you keep messing around, I’m going to bring my dog out, and he’s going to dog bite you.”
McClain was loaded into an ambulance where a paramedic determined he was not breathing and did not have a pulse.
He was declared brain dead three days later and was removed from life support Aug. 30.
Adams County district attorney Dave Young’s office declined to file criminal charges in November, but in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, there has been renewed interest in McClain’s case.
An autopsy was unable to determine whether his death was an accident, due to natural causes or a homicide. The Adams County coroner’s office report listed several contributing factors, including the combination of intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery.
Video shows McClain telling officers: “Let go of me. I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”
Contributing: N’dea Yancey-Bragg and Ryan Miller; The Associated Press
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/07/03/elijah-mcclain-death-officers-fired-over-photo-reenacting-chokehold/5373748002/