Probe spurred by Elijah McClain's death finds Aurora Police 'racially biased'

Probe spurred by Elijah McClain's death finds Aurora Police 'racially biased'

A Colorado attorney general investigation sparked by the 2019 death of Elijah McClain found a pattern of "racially biased policing" in the Aurora Police Department, and that the city's fire department had a history of illegally administering ketamine.

Investigators said in Wednesday's 118-page report that violations by Aurora police included use of excessive force and failing to document stops. The police department's culture, investigators said, contributed to those violations as well as failure to properly investigate such incidents.

The report also found that Aurora Fire had a pattern of illegally administering ketamine and failed to carry out a review to identify problems that could help prevent future violations. The department last year banned emergency responders from administering ketamine until the investigation into McClain's death was completed.

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"The report released today demonstrates a consistent pattern of illegal behavior by Aurora Police, which can be witnessed at many levels of the department. Aurora does not create and oversee appropriate expectations for responsible behavior, which leads to the use of excessive force and the violation of the civil rights of its residents," state Attorney General Phil Weiser's (D) office said in a statement accompanying the report.

The investigation team appointed by Weiser detailed numerous incidents involving police officers who were criticized for excessive use of force, incompetence and racial bias. These included the 2019 confrontation with McClain in which he was handcuffed, placed in a chokehold and injected with a high dose of ketamine.

Three police officers and two paramedics were recently charged in McClain's death. All five face one count of manslaughter and one count of negligent homicide.

The report also referenced an incident at the beginning of 2021 when a Black mother and her four children were held at gunpoint after her car was mistaken for a stolen motorcycle due to having the same license plate number, though the stolen vehicle was registered in a different state.

Investigators determined that Aurora police disproportionately interacted with non-white members of the community, arresting Black people at a rate two times higher than white individuals. According to the most recent census data, around 60 percent of Aurora residents are white and 17 percent are Black.

"The data show that Aurora Police’s interactions with, arrests of, and uses of force against people of color were disproportionately higher than would be anticipated based on a racial or ethnic group’s percentage of Aurora’s overall population. These disparities persist across income, gender, and geographic boundaries," the report said.

Recommendations by investigators included enacting better standards for determining when an officer should make a stop, arrest or use force. They also recommended tracking the outcomes of misdemeanor arrests; improving police academy training in bias and record keeping; improving record-keeping practices; and changing hiring practices to attract a more diverse police force.

In a statement Wednesday, Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said, "We remain committed to cooperation and seeking solutions which keep the best interests of our community and public servants at the forefront," adding that her department would work with Weiser's office to determine how to implement new changes.

"Today is incredibly difficult for not only the Aurora community but this agency. We acknowledge there are changes to be made. We will not broad brush this agency or discount the professionalism and integrity that individual officers bring to our community every day," Wilson added.

Aurora Fire Rescue Chief Fernando Gray similarly said his department was committed to cooperating with the attorney general's office.

"The primary issue identified by the Attorney General for our department was related to the use of ketamine. Although this medication was removed from our system more than a year ago and we have no plans to reintroduce this medication into our system, we find value in the report," Gray said.