Investigation launched following Elijah McClain’s death finds Aurora Police is racially biased

DENVER — A civil rights investigation, launched amid anger over Elijah McClain’s death, has found the Aurora Police Department to have a pattern of racially biased policing, Colorado’s attorney general said on Wednesday.

Attorney General Phil Weiser announced that the investigation has found that the department has long established a culture in which officers treat people of color – especially Black people – differently from white people. He said the agency also had a habit of using unlawful excessive force; frequently escalates encounters with civilians; and does not properly document police interactions with residents.

“These actions are unacceptable. They harm the people that law enforcement is supposed to serve,” he said.

Weiser urged the police department to commit to proposed reforms in officer training, its policies on the use of force, and more stringent standards, particularly for police stops and arrests. Failing that, his office said he would seek a court order compelling the department to do so – but noted that the department fully cooperated with the investigation.

Announced in August 2020, the investigation was the first of its kind to be launched under a comprehensive police accountability act passed a month ago in Colorado amid protests over the murder of George Floyd. It started a few weeks ago but didn’t show up until the day McClain’s family filed a lawsuit against Aurora. The lawsuit alleges that the police’s treatment of 23-year-old massage therapist McClain was part of a racially biased pattern of policing that included aggression and violence against Blacks.

The accountability act made it illegal for police officers or other employees of government agencies to deprive people of their constitutional rights and gave the attorney general the power to enforce it. By law, if the attorney general determines that an institution has “a pattern or practice” of violating human rights, the attorney general must report the reasons for that belief to the institution and give it 60 days to make changes. If the agency doesn’t make changes, the attorney general can sue to force them.

Weiser’s office is also prosecuting three police officers and two paramedics in McClain’s death on charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent murder and assault. During last year’s protests, the Democratic Government convened a grand jury to decide whether a criminal complaint should be filed after Jared Police ordered a second look at the case.

The grand jury indicted all five people.

Police stopped McClain as he was walking home from the store on August 24, 2019, after a 911 caller reported a man wearing a balaclava and waving his hands, looking “aged”. The officers pressed McClain to a throat and pinched him. Paramedics injected 500 milligrams of ketamine, an appropriate amount for someone 77 pounds (35 kilograms) heavier than McClain’s 143-pound (64-pound) frame, according to the indictment. He was later removed from life support.

The Aurora Police Department also faced criticism last year when officers put four Black girls on the ground and handcuffed the two of them next to a car that police suspected was stolen but turned out not to have been stolen.

And an officer was charged with assault in July after he was caught on body camera whipping and strangling a Black man with a pistol during arrest. Another officer was charged with non-intervention under the new police accountability act.

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Nieberg is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.

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The video in the media player above was used in a previous report.

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