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Independent probe faults police, paramedics in 2019 death of Elijah McClain

Independent probe faults police, paramedics in 2019 death of Elijah McClain

An independent probe into the final moments of Elijah McClain's life has found that police and paramedics in Aurora, Colo., made several unjustified decisions that resulted in the 23-year-old Black man's death.

McClain died in August 2019 after being stopped by police officers and injected with a high dose of ketamine. His death was one of several, including those of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, that led to nationwide protests in 2020 against racial injustice and police brutality.

According to the report published Monday by a panel of medical and legal experts commissioned by the Aurora City Council, the officers who stopped McClain had no reason “under the prevailing case law” to establish suspicion against him. The 157-page report said no crime had been reported and McClain had no visible weapons, nor was he exhibiting threatening behavior.

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Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard was the first to arrive and the first to make contact with McClain.

“Upon review of the evidence available to the Panel, Officer Woodyard’s decision to turn what may have been a consensual encounter with Mr. McClain into an investigatory stop — in fewer than ten seconds — did not appear to be supported by any officer’s reasonable suspicion that Mr. McClain was engaged in criminal activity. This decision had ramifications for the rest of the encounter,” the panel wrote in the report.

None of the officers who confronted McClain identified a suspected crime before making contact with him.

The panel also noted that body cameras used during the incident showed McClain surrounded by officers all “larger than he” while he was forced to the ground in a painful carotid hold.

“His words were apologetic and confused, not angry or threatening. He became increasingly plaintive and desperate as he struggled to breathe,” the report said.

Paramedics who arrived at the scene had no prior contact with McClain before injecting him with 500 mg of ketamine, incorrectly estimating that he weighed around 200 pounds, according to the report. McClain weighed around 140 pounds and was described by officers as "fairly slim."

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"Aurora EMS determined it was appropriate to administer ketamine to Mr. McClain despite the fact that he did not appear to be offering meaningful resistance in the presence of EMS personnel," the report said.

The officers involved claimed several justifications for approaching McClain, including his presence in a high-crime area and the fact that he continued to walk after Woodyard spoke to him. McClain was wearing earbuds at the time of the encounter.

The panel concluded that none of the officer's justifications warranted use of force.

The Aurora City Council is set to meet Monday evening to discuss the panel's findings, NBC News reported, adding that none of the officers or medics have been criminally charged.

A grand jury investigation was launched into McClain's death last year, and the Justice Department announced a review to look into a potential civil rights probe.

McClain's family has filed a lawsuit against the Aurora police officers and medics who were involved in his death.

"We have filed this civil rights lawsuit to demand justice for Elijah McClain, to hold accountable the Aurora officials, police officers, and paramedics responsible for his murder, and to force the City of Aurora to change it longstanding pattern of brutal and racist policing,” Sheneen McClain and Lawayne Mosley said in a statement.