Independent probe accuses police and paramedics of wrongdoing in death of Elijah McClain

Colorado police and paramedics who stopped and treated Elijah McClain made a series of crucial errors that ended in the young man’s 2019 death, findings of an independent probe revealed on Monday.

Aurora police had no justification to stop or use force to detain McClain, and responding paramedics sedated him with ketamine “without conducting anything more than a brief visual observation” of the 23-year-old Black man, according to a panel of medical and legal experts appointed by the City Council, which commissioned the report.

Elijah McClain.Courtesy Mari Newman

McClain was stopped on Aug. 24, 2019 in Aurora by officers answering a call reporting a suspicious person in the area.

The initial stop of McClain was questionable, as “none of the officers articulated a crime that they thought Mr. McClain had committed, was committing or was about to commit,” the report found. “This decision had ramifications for the rest of the encounter,” according to findings.

A chokehold was used during the confrontation and he was injected with ketamine, with authorities believing he was in a state of excited delirium and posing a threat to officers, authorities have said.

The 5-foot-7, 140-pound McClain was given ketamine that would have been proper for a man weighing 190 pounds, according to the panel’s findings.

“Based on the record available to the panel, we were not able to identify sufficient evidence that Mr. McClain was armed and dangerous in order to justify a pat-down search,” the report said. “The panel also notes that one officer’s explanation that that Aurora officers are trained to ‘take action before it escalates’ does not meet the constitutional requirement of reasonable suspicion to conduct (a stop or frisk).”

He lost consciousness and was taken off life support on Aug. 30. McClain’s death gained national interest over the summer in light of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, as millions of Americans took the streets protesting police brutality and systemic racism.

Monday’s report, though, stopped short of blaming “implicit bias” for McClain’s death.

“In looking at this single incident, the panel has insufficient information to determine what role, if any, bias played in Aurora Police officers’ and EMS personnel’s encounter with McClain,” according to the city-commissioned experts.

“However, research indicates that factors such as increased perception of threat, perception of extraordinary strength, perception of higher pain tolerance, and misperceptions of age and size can be indicative of bias.”

Previously, fire and emergency medical services officials in Aurora have said a preliminary review found that medics’ actions on the night police detained McClain were “consistent and aligned with our established protocols.”

A spokesman for the Aurora Police Department declined comment on Monday, while a representative for the fire department could not be immediately reached.

Union representatives for police and fire department employees were also not immediately available for comment.

This is a developing story, please refresh here for updates.

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