Colorado police had no basis to stop unarmed black man who died in custody - independent probe

0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • An independent investigation found that police had no apparent grounds for stopping Elijah McClain.
  • McClain died following the police action.
  • His family has filed a civil rights lawsuit.


A Colorado police officer had no apparent reasonable grounds to suspect a crime was being committed when he approached an unarmed black man walking home from a convenience store, and within seconds escalated a stop that led to the man's death, a report by independent investigators released on Monday said.

READ | Seven police officers in Rochester, New York suspended over black man's death

The City Council in the Denver suburb of Aurora had requested the investigation after the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain attracted renewed scrutiny amid international demonstrations against racism and police killings of black Americans following the death last May of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Earlier probes by city departments had determined that the officers and paramedics involved in McClain's death had not violated policy and the prosecutor declined to bring charges.

Monday's report resulting from an investigation led by Jonathan Smith, a former head of special litigation for the US Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, concluded that Aurora police "failed to ask basic, critical questions" that would have helped prosecutors determine whether the force used was justified.

Police investigators instead asked questions that appeared designed to elicit comments that would exonerate the officers involved, according to the report.

Civil rights lawsuit

Aurora police and paramedic officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Smith's report was to be discussed at an Aurora City Council meeting on Monday.

Mari Newman, an attorney for McClain's family, said in a statement that the independent report "confirms what we have known all along: Aurora police and medics violated Elijah McClain’s civil rights, and Aurora did everything in its power to sweep his murder under the rug."

McClain's family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.

According to the 153-page report by Smith and two colleagues - one a former Arizona chief of police and the other a doctor who directs emergency medical services in Alabama - Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard decided in less than 10 seconds after McClain was stopped as he was walking alone late on 24 August 2019 "to turn what may have been a consensual encounter with Mr McClain into an investigatory stop" without apparent grounds.

McClain went into cardiac arrest after he was subdued by three police officers. Woodyard was the first officer to have responded to a report from a passer-by that McClain had been acting suspiciously.

Police restrained McClain using an oxygen-depriving neck hold. Police called paramedics who administered a dose of ketamine, a sedative.

McClain died days later in hospital.

The independent investigators concluded that paramedics failed to properly examine McClain before injecting the sedative.

Did you know you can comment on this article? Subscribe to News24 and add your voice to the conversation.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
When a Covid-19 vaccine for under 16's becomes available, will you be taking your children to get it?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, immediately!
38% - 4368 votes
I'll wait to see how others respond
26% - 2953 votes
No, I don't think they need it
36% - 4166 votes
Vote
ZAR/USD
15.47
(-1.09)
ZAR/GBP
21.38
(-0.83)
ZAR/EUR
18.35
(-0.55)
ZAR/AUD
11.87
(-0.64)
ZAR/JPY
0.14
(-0.71)
Gold
1681.42
(-1.50)
Silver
25.18
(-0.88)
Platinum
1147.50
(+1.14)
Brent Crude
70.77
(0.00)
Palladium
2331.00
(-0.36)
All Share
68426.17
(+0.23)
Top 40
62910.60
(+0.19)
Financial 15
12747.28
(-0.10)
Industrial 25
87156.37
(-0.52)
Resource 10
71780.93
(+1.38)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo