Aurora Cop Resigns Following Elijah McClain Photo Investigation

The late Elijah McClain, seen in a family photo.
The late Elijah McClain, seen in a family photo. Family photo via NBC News
An Aurora police officer has resigned a week after an internal affairs investigation was launched into allegations that three cops posed for photos at the site where Aurora police had approached and physically restrained Elijah McClain in August 2019, in a stop that ultimately ended in McClain's death.

"In response to inquiries by the press, Jaron Jones, hired October 31, 2016, tendered his resignation. Jones was one of the employees involved and depicted in the photograph investigation related to #ElijahMcClain. We will continue to update w/developments as we proceed," the Aurora Police Department tweeted on July 2.

Upon learning of the photos on June 25, Vanessa Wilson, the interim Aurora police chief, placed Jones and two other cops in the photos on administrative leave. The pictures, taken in the months after McClain's death, allegedly depict the three re-enacting a carotid hold, a move that Aurora police officers had used against McClain.

On June 29, Wilson stated that the "investigation will be publicly released in its entirety promptly upon its conclusion. This will include reports, photographic evidence obtained, officer’s names, and my final determination which can rise to the level of termination." But nothing has yet been released, beyond confirmation of Jones's resignation.

Over the past year, the Aurora Police Department has stumbled from one awful episode to the next, with the McClain incident just the most egregious.

Despite the fact that the 23-year-old had committed no crime and was simply walking home from a convenience store, officers who'd been notified by a 911 dispatcher approached McClain, quickly got physical with him, and then used a significant amount of force to restrain him. Paramedics who eventually arrived on scene injected McClain with ketamine prior to putting him in an ambulance. While he was in that ambulance, McClain's heart stopped and he never regained consciousness. McClain died in the hospital days later.

Dave Young, district attorney for the 17th Judicial District, didn't press charges against the officers or the paramedics involved in the McClain incident, saying there wasn't enough evidence to secure a criminal conviction.

With the George Floyd protests putting a spotlight on police brutality, however, McClain's story has gone viral, with famous actors, star athletes and elected officials across the country taking to social media to demand justice. With pressure mounting, Governor Jared Polis ordered Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate the McClain incident, with authority to pursue criminal charges.

Meanwhile, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division revealed that they have been looking into what happened to McClain since 2019 for possible civil-rights violations.

On June 27, over a thousand protesters gathered near the Aurora Municipal Center to demand justice for Elijah McClain and listen to a violin vigil in his honor (he'd played the violin).

But Aurora police, decked out in riot gear, eventually deployed tear gas and used batons to quell what police leadership referred to as "a core group of agitators." At a June 29 special meeting of Aurora City Council, Wilson defended the actions of her officers, saying that they were under threat. However, multiple members of council questioned whether police went too far and were not discerning enough in how they tried to disperse protesters.

By then, Jones had already been pulled off duty. Now he's gone altogether from the Aurora Police Department.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.