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Elijah McClain died after an encounter with Aurora police in August 2019.
Elijah McClain died after an encounter with Aurora police in August 2019.
McClain family photo

Elijah McClain Death Scene Reenactment Pics: Cops on Leave

Many Black Lives Matter protesters have called for defunding law enforcement agencies under the theory that they're too broken to reform — and the Aurora Police Department continues to provide arguments for this approach.

Aurora officers weren't criminally charged for in connection with their August 2019 encounter with Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed black man who died despite committing no crime; he was initially targeted for dancing to music while wearing a ski mask on his way home from a convenience store. Then, this weekend, after the incident had become a national outrage, APD squads used pepper spray to break up a performance by violinists paying tribute to McClain, who loved the instrument, sparking more negative headlines around the globe. And now, three cops with the department have been placed on administrative leave for allegedly reenacting the chokehold that preceded McClain's medical crisis, captured in photos taken at the spot where he died.

If Aurora cops are eventually fired for snapping offensive pics rather than killing an innocent black man, the irony will be visible from outer space.

The images, whose existence was first divulged by CBS4, have not yet been made public, but Interim Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson — a finalist to win the job permanently in the hunt for a replacement for Nick Metz, who retired at the end of 2019 — promises that they will be. In a statement released at 9:58 p.m. on June 29, she says:

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Thursday afternoon, I was apprised of allegations reported to Internal Affairs by an Aurora Police Officer alleging multiple Aurora Police officers were depicted in photographs near the site where Elijah McClain died. All involved officers were immediately placed on administrative leave with pay in non-enforcement capacities.

I immediately ordered Internal Affairs to make this investigation their top priority. This accelerated investigation was completed this evening.

This 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.

The photos depict "the carotid restraint, which was used on McClain," according to CBS4. There's no word yet regarding when they were taken or whether Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema, the officers involved in the original incident, are seen in them.

Woodyard, Rosenblatt and Roedema were placed on administrative leave after McClain's death, then allowed to return to the streets after District Attorney Dave Young opted against criminal charges — a decision Young continues to defend. However, Woodyard, Rosenblatt and Roedema were assigned to non-enforcement duties last week in order to "protect" them, an Aurora police spokesperson said.

A surveillance image of Elijah McClain near where he was attacked by Aurora police.
A surveillance image of Elijah McClain near where he was attacked by Aurora police.
Aurora Police Department via CBS4

Prior to the June 27 protest, the Party for Socialism and Liberation in Denver, one of the sponsoring organizations, issued the following list of demands:

1. Immediately fire all three APD officers (Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema) and both paramedics who actively participated in Elijah's murder.

2. Reopen the case and file criminal charges against all three APD officers and the two paramedics who actively participated in Elijah's murder.

3. Provide immediate restitution to the McClain family, reflecting the incredible injustice committed against them. Do not drag it out any longer, forcing them to repeatedly defend the injustice of the cold-blooded murder of their child.

In a conversation with Westword about a protest over the May 1 police-shooting death of William DeBose, Lillian House, a spokesperson for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, explained the rationale for defunding the police.

"What we're fighting for is an entirely different system," she said. "We want to overthrow the system as it exists now, which has an oppressor class — and without the need to oppress people, there's no need for a police force as it exists today. Whether we'd have community policing is something else, but you couldn't call it police in the same sense as it is now. It would be a completely different institution."

If that happens in Aurora, the police department will deserve no small share of credit for contributing to its own demise. In the meantime, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is actively investigating McClain's death at the behest of Governor Jared Polis, who ordered the probe last week.

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