Law Enforcement

Aurora's PR Disaster Over Scathing Elijah McClain Death Report

The late Elijah McClain playing violin, one of his favorite pastimes.
The late Elijah McClain playing violin, one of his favorite pastimes. McClain family photo
Aurora is in full scramble mode following the February 22 release of a scathing report regarding the August 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain following a controversial police encounter that's been described as more than fifteen minutes of torture.

The 157-page document assembled by Jonathan Smith, Dr. Melissa Costello and Roberto Villaseñor, an independent investigation team commissioned by Aurora City Council, is incredibly dense with criticism of virtually everything authorities in the city did before and after the assault on McClain, who'd committed no crime and was originally targeted for dancing to music while wearing a ski mask during a walk home from a convenience store — so dense that officials are still struggling to figure out how to handle all the report's contents.

A case in point: Aurora City Council had set a ninety-minute special session about the analysis for 5 p.m. on February 22, just prior to its regularly scheduled 6:30 p.m. meeting — but a recitation of the damning facts essentially took up the entire time period. With minutes to go, Mayor Mike Coffman asked the panel if its members could appear in another format at some point in the future to actually answer questions about their findings — a request to which they were open.

In the meantime, a press conference has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today, February 23, with the chiefs of the Aurora police and fire departments, among others, expected to take part.

Here's the video of last night's special session:

McClain's mother, Sheneen McClain, and father, LaWayne Mosely, have jointly sued the City of Aurora over the circumstances of their son's death, but they also have separate legal representation. Sheneen is being advised by Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, and Mosely is working with attorney Mari Newman of Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP.

In a statement, Rathod Mohamedbhai's Qusair Mohamedbhai said that Sheneen McClain expressed gratitude for the way "this independent investigation has laid bare the wrongdoing of Aurora employees who are responsible for the death of her son. She continues to call for Aurora to hold its employees accountable. The Aurora officials who contributed to Elijah’s death must be immediately terminated. Ms. McClain continues to call for the criminal prosecution of those responsible for Elijah’s death. Elijah committed no crime on the day of his death, but those who are responsible for Elijah’s death certainly did."

Sheneen added: "Elijah believed in humanity and that humanity mattered. Inhumane humans are a problem, and we must stop unjust laws."

For her part, Newman sees the report as laying out "all of the failures relating to the so-called investigation of Elijah McClain's murder and Aurora's longstanding history of racist brutality that's perpetuated by its consistent failures."

As for the report's potential impact on the lawsuit, Newman notes: "It's certainly corroborative of everything we've been saying for the last year and a half. As the report points out, the officers didn't even have legal justification to stop Elijah — and the stop, of course, set the wheels in motion for all of the horrifying things that happened. It lays out in detail the fact that they didn't have the legal authority to stop him, pat him down, tackle him or to use the force that they did. And it also condemns the failures of Aurora's fire rescue, pointing out that the paramedics didn't even conduct the most cursory diagnostics, but instead acted at the behest of the police, which was a total abrogation of their duties. And then they injected Elijah with a massive overdose of a dangerous drug (ketamine) with no safety measures in place."

The Smith-Costello-Villaseñor inquiry is one of several into McClain's death. As Newman points out, "The Colorado Attorney General has two investigations going on. One is the criminal investigation, for which they've empaneled a grand jury, and the other is the pattern-and-practices investigation, which was authorized by SB-217," better known as the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act, which was signed into law by Governor Jared Polis last June. That's "the first investigation under that new law so far," Newman suggests.

"The federal government issued a statement indicating they're doing an investigation of some sort, although I've never been contacted by anyone from a federal agency about it," she adds. "And we're also continuing an investigation under our civil lawsuit."

Click to read the Elijah McClain investigation report and recommendations.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts