Law Enforcement

Elijah McClain Lawsuit Settlement Complicated by Family Dynamics

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
Sheneen McClain and Lawayne Mosley, the plaintiffs in an August 2020 lawsuit over the death of their son, Elijah McClain, following a stop by Aurora Police Department officers in August 2019 have reached a settlement agreement in principle with the City of Aurora. But none of the parties are commenting on dollar amounts, in part because the estranged parents must concur on the distribution of damages, which have been the subject of long-running negotiations even as the story of their son's death  has reverberated around the world.

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.

The lawsuit's transcript of Elijah's words during the attack are heartrending: "I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe please. I can’t. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe, please stop. [Groans of pain]. I have my ID right here. I have my ID right (inaudible). My name is Elijah McClain. That’s all. That’s what I was doing. I was just going home. I’m an introvert and I’m different. [Sobbing]. I just (inaudible). I’m just different. I’m just different, that’s all. That’s all I was doing. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why were you attacking me? I don’t do guns. I don’t even kill flies. I don’t eat meat…. I am [ ] a vegetarian. I don’t judge people for anything. I try to live (inaudible), and I respect all life. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better…. But I’ll do it. I’ll do it. .... To help all life. I will do (inaudible). Even if I have to sacrifice my identity. I’ll do it. I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful. [Groans of pain]. Forgive me. …. [Cry of pain]. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow. Ow, that really hurt. You guys are very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work. [Sobbing]. Ow that hurts. (Multiple very quiet, inaudible statements). Oh yeah I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that. I can’t breathe correctly because — [Vomiting] …. Ok, ok…I can’t sense myself. Ow! Ah! Ow! Stop please!... I’m trying…. Please help me."

The original complaint was filed on August 11, 2020, by Mari Newman of Denver's Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP; the document's plaintiff is identified as "The Estate of Elijah McClain, by and through its personal representatives Sheneen McClain and Lawayne Mosley." Today, Mosley is still Newman's client, but by earlier this year, Sheneen McClain had signed on with Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, another local civil rights law firm.

On October 18, Rathod Mohamedbhai announced the latest developments in the case with a brief release: "Sheneen McClain confirms that a settlement in principle has been reached with the City of Aurora resolving all claims raised in her federal civil rights lawsuit. The court will now determine allocation of the proceeds between Ms. McClain, the parent who raised Elijah McClain by herself, and Lawayne Mosley, the absent biological father."

The attorneys representing Sheneen McClain didn't return a call requesting more details. Meanwhile, Newman issued a statement on behalf of Mosley that avoided any references to his ex-wife: "Elijah’s father, Lawayne Mosley, confirms that a settlement has been reached in the civil rights case for the murder of his son. Nothing will bring back his son Elijah, who he loved dearly, but he is hopeful that this settlement with Aurora, and the criminal charges against the officers and medics who killed Elijah, will allow his family and the community to begin to heal."

This last reference pertains to the September 1 announcement by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser that a grand jury had issued a 32-count indictment against five individuals involved in Elijah McClain's death: 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.

Aurora spokesperson Ryan Luby offered confirmation of the agreement, as well as details that made it clear that talks between the assorted parties took place over weeks, if not months. "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," Luby says. "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."

Click to read Estate of Elijah McClain v. City of Aurora, et al.
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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