DENVER (Reuters) – U.S. officials in a Colorado city where a young Black man died in police custody in 2019 say their system of accountability failed.
The acknowledgement on Tuesday came a day after an independent panel hired by Aurora’s City Council found that police stopped Elijah McClain even though they had no apparent reason to suspect a crime was being committed, and that a subsequent internal police investigation of the incident was flawed.
The 23-year-old went into cardiac arrest soon after an officer put him in a chokehold as he cried and pleaded for him to stop.
“We’ve identified the root of this case and it’s the failure of a system of accountability,” said City Manager Jim Twombly, referring to McClain’s death.
“I will be pursuing with the mayor and city council the establishment of an independent monitor to enhance accountability and transparency of the police department and regain the trust of the public,” he added.
Twombly did not elaborate on the proposal for an independent monitor.
McClain family attorney Mari Newman told Reuters by telephone that the “devil is in the details” with respect to the creation of an independent monitor.
“Without the authority to actually make and enforce changes, it’s a symbolic gesture,” she said.
No officers involved in McClain’s death have been disciplined. Initial internal probes determined that the officers and paramedics involved in McClain’s death had not violated policy. The district attorney declined to file charges in the case.
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said she knows McClain’s death has spurred anger and pain, saying “the bottom line is that Elijah McClain should still be alive today.” She vowed that the police department will “address our failures” and build trust.
According to the 153-page report released Monday, an Aurora police officer decided in less than 10 seconds after McClain was stopped as he was walking alone late on Aug. 24, 2019 “to turn what may have been a consensual encounter with Mr. McClain into an investigatory stop” without apparent grounds.
After the arrest, 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.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, additional reporting and writing by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Aurora Ellis)