What We Know About the Death of Elijah McClain

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There have been recent calls by the public to investigate the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after being detained by violently police last August in Aurora, Colorado.

Over two million people have signed a petition to “demand these officers are taken off duty, and that a more in-depth investigation is held.”

What We Know

District Attorney David Young’s report states that the Aurora Police Department received a 911 call on August 24, 2019, at 10:32 p.m. of “a suspicious Black man wearing a ski mask, ‘acting weird’ by waving his arms around.”

Naomi McClain, McClain’s sister, told KMGH-TV last year that her brother had gone to the convenience store to buy tea for a cousin. She said McClain was wearing a face mask because “he had anemia and would sometimes get cold.” Naomi also told the news station that she believed her brother was wearing headphones and listening to music when police stopped him.

In the district attorney’s report, Officer Nathan Woodyard approached McClain on foot, telling him to stop walking, but the 23-year-old said, “I have a right to go where I am going.” In response, Woodyard told McClain “I have the right to stop you because you’re being suspicious.”

Woodyard proceeded to grab McClain’s arm while Officer Jason Rosenblatt grabbed McClain’s other arm. Woodyard reportedly told Aurora Police Department Detective Matthew Ingui that because officers did not know what was inside his shopping bag, he thought McClain had a weapon on him but would not allow officers to search him. No weapons were found on his person.

The report states that in reviewed body camera footage, one officer can be heard telling McClain “stop tensing up dude, stop tensing up.” McClain tells the officer “let me go, no let me go, I am an introvert, please respect my boundaries that I am speaking.” Officer Randy Roedema said that McClain had reached for an officer’s gun, and all three officers took down McClain.

Woodyard then put the 23-year-old in a carotid control hold, which “is a pressure control tactic that involves an officer placing his arm around the subject’s neck, applying pressure around the subject’s neck, restricting the flow of blood to the brain via the carotid arteries,” according to the DA’s report. On June 9, the department banned the carotid control hold, the Sentinel Colorado reported.

McClain lost consciousness “briefly” and was released from the hold, the report stated. The officers called for assistance and an ambulance and firefighters arrived at the scene. A fire medic reportedly administered 500 milligrams of ketamine into McClain to sedate him.

The 23-year-old was then placed into “soft restraints” and loaded into the ambulance, but the fire medic stated in the report after his initial examination that “McClain’s chest was not rising on his own, and he did not have a pulse.”. McClain was taken to the hospital but was declared brain dead three days later.

An autopsy was unable to determine McClain’s cause of death. In the report, it stated that there is a list of possibilities that resulted in McClain’s death, concluding “that a combination of intense physical exertion and a left narrow coronary artery contributed to Mr. McClain’s death.”

The three officers were placed on administrative leave following McClain’s death but were reinstated three months later after the DA declined not to file charges against them, the Sentinel Colorado reported.

What Now?

The protests following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans who were killed by police have renewed attention on McClain’s death. Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) wrote on Twitter on June 24 that he’s instructed officials in his office to reexamine McClain’s death.

“Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever. A fair and objective process free from real or perceived bias for investigating officer-involved killings is critical,” Polis wrote.


Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman wrote on Twitter that the Aurora City Council will meet on July 6 to decide whether or not to authorize an independent investigation into McClain’s death.

“We need to bring closure to this tragic incident by making sure every aspect of it is thoroughly investigated,” Coffman wrote.

A fundraiser for McClain’s family has garnered attention again and has raised over $1.3 million as of June 25. McClain’s mother, Sheneen, started the fundraiser back in September to help care for hospital bills.

"Treating humans like gutter because you yourself have unsolved issues in your being shows in guilt or hate," she wrote on the GoFundMe page two months after McClain’s death. "We have done this to ourselves by not standing up for each other on all levels of understanding and community values."