The Redesigning of the Aurora Police Department

The Aurora PD responded with excessive force to protests for Elijah McClain. || Photo Courtesy of: Michael Emery Hecker • Westword

A Plan to Reform the Problematic Police Force Will be Created With or Without the APD’s Cooperation 

The Aurora Police Department (APD) gained national attention after the death of Elijah McClain on Aug. 30, 2019. Due to this and other reports of racially-biased policing, the Colorado Attorney General, Phil Weiser, has given the APD 60 days to develop a consent decree (an agreement that finds a resolution between two parties without any admission to guilt) that will address these issues. 

The attorney general and staff will oversee the development of the consent decree. If an agreement between the two parties cannot be found within the 60-day deadline, a court order will be developed to correct these problems instead, according to Westword; however, it will still take years to implement a solution once one is decided on. 

At the time of his death, Elijah McClain was a 23-year-old Aurora resident. McClain was on his way home when someone called 911 and said that he “looked sketchy,” according to the New York Times. Body cams show the officers attempting to put him in a carotid hold twice, succeeding at least once. Officers believed they needed to medically sedate McClain, even though he was showing no sign of struggle.   

By the time the Aurora Fire Department paramedics arrived on the scene, police officers had restrained McClain in handcuffs. The paramedics proceeded to give McClain a lethal dose of ketamine. Body cam footage shows them neglecting to properly care for McClain. 

McClain experienced cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died days later. After the autopsy was released, Adams County District Attorney Dave Young announced that criminal charges would not be filed due to lack of evidence that the officers had broken the law (CBS News). The autopsy report does not  directly say that the attack caused McClain’s death, but the Adams County coroner did admit in a letter to the APD Chief Nicolaus Metz that he would not have died if not for the brutal attack. 

When the case began gaining traction due to the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred last year, the McClain family filed a lawsuit against the city of Aurora on Aug. 11, 2020. Gov. Jared Polis appointed Weiser to conduct an investigation into McClain’s death, which was announced the same day the family filed the lawsuit. The timeline suggests the protests were the main motivation for this decision. 

The investigation was overseen by the attorney general for 14 months, and he established that the APD showed a pattern of racially biased policing and excessive force. The investigation also determined that the use of ketamine by emergency personnel was illegal, according to 9News.  

The three officers involved with McClain’s death were indicted in Sept. 2021, along with the two paramedics from the Aurora Fire Department. Court records show the charges include  crime of violence, second-degree assault, criminally negligent homicide, and manslaughter. The Denver Post reported that the participants in the attack were indicted at the end of August 2021 and are out on bond waiting for arraignment. 

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