Law Enforcement

Update: Elijah McClain's Family, Aurora Settle Lawsuit for $15 Million

Lawayne Mosley and Sheneen McClain as seen during a 2019 event and a portrait of the late Elijah McClain.
Lawayne Mosley and Sheneen McClain as seen during a 2019 event and a portrait of the late Elijah McClain. Photo by Michael Roberts/Family photo
Update: The City of Aurora has confirmed reports that it has agreed to pay $15 million to settle the lawsuit filed following the death of Elijah McClain in August 2019. This amount will definitely put a strain on finances in the community; because the maximum expenditure covered by the city's insurance policy is $10 million, the additional $5 million will come from Aurora's general fund.

Here's the release announcing the deal. Aurora and Elijah McClain’s family reach settlement

"No amount of money can change what happened or erase the pain and heartbreak experienced by the family over his loss," Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said. "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 is an important step in moving forward with the city’s ‘New Way’ plan to restore the community’s trust in public safety, while avoiding a protracted legal process that does not serve the best interests of the city or the family."

"There is nothing that can rectify the loss of Elijah McClain and the suffering his loved ones have endured. I am committed to learning from this tragedy," Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said. "Significant changes have already occurred and will continue to be implemented."

"Our hearts are once again focused on the family of Elijah McClain," Aurora Fire Rescue Chief Fernando Gray, Sr. said. "AFR will honor him through process improvements and focusing on compassionate care for all of our patients."

The finalized agreement comes after a mediation hearing between Mr. McClain’s family members in U.S. District Court on Friday. The Plaintiffs will dismiss the city and the other named defendants in the lawsuit. Once that occurs, the city will make payment of the settlement amount to the Court Registry to allow the family members to continue their allocation discussions.

The city’s excess liability insurance policy will cover $10 million of the settlement — the maximum amount the policy will pay. The remaining $5 million will be paid out of the city’s General Fund. Aurora City Council approved the $15 million settlement agreement during a July executive session meeting after negotiations that began earlier this year.

McClain’s death ushered in reviews and assessments of his case and public safety practices in Aurora. In September, the city heard from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office in its ‘Patterns and Practices’ report and then reached an agreement on a consent decree to resolve issues the report identified. Previously, the city heard from 21CP Solutions on the city-commissioned independent assessment the firm conducted, the Independent Review Panel led by Jonathan Smith and the Community Policing Task Force. The recommendations and findings presented in each review are being incorporated into the city’s ongoing work to advance the city’s ‘New Way’ plan.

"The impetus for this work followed Elijah McClain’s death and the related issues that came to light. We are considering all recommendations and what they are designed to accomplish for this community. We have already implemented some of them, and will continue on that path,” Twombly said. “While some of the recommendations may not be immediately actionable by the city alone, we are going to do everything we can to rebuild the public’s trust and respect."
Original post from 7 a.m. November 19: Last month, the City of Aurora and the attorneys representing Sheneen McClain and Lawayne Mosley, the plaintiffs in an August 2020 lawsuit over the death of their son, Elijah McClain, after a violent encounter with Aurora Police Department officers, revealed that a settlement had been reached. But none of the parties would offer details, in part because the estranged parents needed to concur on the distribution of damages, which have been the subject of long-running negotiations even as the story of their son's death reverberated around the world.

The wall of silence cracked a bit late on November 17, when CBS4, citing reliable sources, reported that the final settlement totals approximately $15 million — an amount that's expected to be confirmed during a hearing at 10:30 a.m. today, November 19.

Such a payout would be the biggest in Colorado history for a police-related case and the second-largest nationally, behind only the $27 million paid by the City of Minneapolis following the 2020 death of George Floyd. Other settlements in nationally prominent police deaths include $12 million to the family of Louisville, Kentucky's Breonna Taylor, $6.4 million to the family of Baltimore's Freddie Gray, and $5 million to the family of Chicago's Laquan McDonald.

The most sizable such settlement in Colorado was the $9 million that Northglenn paid last year for the 2017 officer-involved shooting that killed Jeremy Patscheck and paralyzed Serina Minella. The Denver deaths of Marvin Booker and Michael Marshall led to settlements of $6 million and $4.65 million, respectively.

City of Aurora spokesperson Ryan Luby won't verify the settlement size in advance of the hearing. His statement, which echoes the one he provided to Westword in October: "The City of Aurora and the family of Elijah McClain reached a settlement agreement in principle over the summer to resolve the lawsuit filed after his tragic death in August 2019. City leaders are prepared to sign the agreement as soon as the family members complete a separate but related allocation process to which the city is not a party. Until those issues are resolved and the agreement is in its final form, the parties cannot disclose the settlement terms."

Confirmation is clearly near, however. Shortly before noon on November 18, Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, the Denver-based firm that represents Sheneen McClain, released the following: "Ms. McClain would like to thank the community for its incredible support, love, and commitment to ensuring that Elijah’s death would lead to meaningful reform. Ms. McClain raised Elijah as a single mother and his death has left an enormous void in her life. While nothing will fill that void, Ms. McClain is hopeful that badly needed reforms to the Aurora Police Department will spare other parents the same heartache."

Reached after that statement was released, Mari Newman, attorney for Lawayne Mosley, said only that she was abiding by an agreement not to comment prior to the hearing.

Elijah McClain was taken off life support on August 30, 2019, six days after a 911 caller had alerted officers to a suspicious sight: a man dancing to music while wearing a ski mask. The 23-year-old was unarmed and had committed no crime, yet that didn't prevent APD officers from brutalizing him for more than fifteen minutes. Along the way, they directed paramedics to inject Elijah with the powerful drug ketamine without his consent, leading to a health crisis from which he never emerged.

Today's hearing won't be the last legal action related to McClain's death. On September 1, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced that a grand jury had issued a 32-count indictment against five individuals who took part in the McClain stop: Aurora Police officers Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard, former Aurora Police officer Jason Rosenblatt (who was fired after he texted "Haha" in regard to a re-enactment photo of the McClain incident), and Aurora Fire and Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec. The charges include manslaughter allegations against all five individuals.

And on November 16, Weiser and the City of Aurora jointly announced that they had reached a "final agreement in principle on the terms of a consent decree to resolve issues identified in a September ‘Patterns and Practices’ report about the Aurora Police Department and Aurora Fire Rescue" that identified systemic racial inequities.

The decree, which is expected to last five years but could end sooner depending on Aurora's progress, will feature "specific guidance on critical decision-making and the exercise of discretion when engaging with community members to address perceived or actual bias in policing, to develop a new data system to document police interactions with members of the community, and to improve the hiring of police officers and firefighters to ensure the public safety workforce better reflects Aurora’s rich culture and diversity," according to the announcement. "It also addresses the prior use of ketamine and other sedatives by Aurora Fire Rescue as chemical restraints."

Click to read the Estate of Elijah McClain v. City of Aurora, et al. and the consent decree motion.
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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