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Colorado governor directs officials to reexamine death of Elijah McClain in police custody

Colorado Gov. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisNursing home residents stage protest of coronavirus restrictions Newsom's EV executive order will help make California breathable again Colorado governor signs pardons for people convicted of minor marijuana possession MORE (D) said Wednesday that he’s directed officials in his office to reexamine the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man who died in police custody last year.

“Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever,” Polis said in a statement. “I am hearing from many Coloradans who have expressed concerns with the investigation of Elijah McClain’s death.

“As a result, I have instructed my legal council to examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps,” he added.

McClain’s death has gained greater attention amid nationwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice that were sparked by the May 25 police killing of George Floyd. More than 2.6 million people have signed a petition demanding a more in-depth investigation into McClain’s encounter with police in Aurora, Colo., that resulted in his death.

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McClain died in August after being stopped by three white Aurora Police Department officers as he walked home from a convenience store. Police were responding to a report that a man was wearing a mask and acting “suspicious,” though the caller said he did not feel like he was in danger, the Sentinel Colorado reported.

Members of McClain’s family have said that the 23-year-old would wear an open-face ski mask because he "had anemia and would sometimes get cold." 

A police overview of the incident said that McClain resisted contact with an officer, which caused a struggle, CNN reported. McClain could be heard saying, "I'm an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking,” according to an officer’s body-cam footage.

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During the struggle, an officer tackled McClain. An officer could also be heard saying at one point, “If you keep messing around, I’m going to bring my dog out, and he’s going to dog bite you."

One of the officers later placed McClain in a carotid hold, or chokehold, which briefly caused him to lose consciousness. After first responders arrived, McClain was held down and injected with a dose of ketamine to sedate him.

McClain experienced a heart attack in the ambulance, according to a letter from the district attorney obtained by CNN. He was declared brain dead on Aug. 27 and died three days later.

An autopsy did not determine McClain’s cause of death, though it reportedly listed several contributing factors, including intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery.

The three responding officers — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema — were reportedly placed on administrative leave following the incident. But they were reinstated after the Adams County district attorney declined to file criminal charges in the case. 

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An Aurora Police Department review board in February cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, according to 9News, a local NBC affiliate. The board said that the force officers used during the incident was consistent with policies and police training. 

Michael Bryant, Aurora’s interim manager of communications, told 9News that the city council and city manager "are working together to identify a new independent review of the city’s response in the Elijah McClain case."

Aurora Mayor Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanColorado mayor says he called protesters 'domestic terrorists' out of 'frustration' Colorado governor directs officials to reexamine death of Elijah McClain in police custody Petition demanding justice for Elijah McClain surpasses 2 million signatures MORE (R) has also called for a special meeting of the City Council to vote on who will conduct an independent investigation should one be initiated. 

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

Polis earlier this month signed a sweeping package of police reforms, including a ban on the use of chokeholds. The bill also repealed qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police officers from civil lawsuits.