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He Went to Get an Iced Tea. His Death Spurred an Outcry

Colo. governor says his office will take closer look at 2019 death of Elijah McClain
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 25, 2020 8:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – Last August, a 23-year-old unarmed black man died after an incident involving the police in Aurora, Colo. Now, Gov. Jared Polis says his office will examine how the state can assist in the investigation into Elijah McClain's death amid renewed public interest in the case, per the Denver Post. "Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever," Polis tweeted Wednesday. "A fair and objective process free from real or perceived bias for investigating officer-involved killings is critical." He added that, after hearing from "many Coloradoans," he has "instructed my legal council to examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps." The three officers involved—Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema—were initially placed on administrative leave, but Adams County prosecutors declined to file charges, and the three returned to duty. More coverage:

  • The incident: The Cut has a full explainer of what happened on the night of Aug. 24, 2019, when McClain's family says he headed to a local convenience store to pick up some iced tea for his brother. The Aurora Police Department received a call of a "suspicious person" wearing a mask and waving his hands around. When the officers arrived, they tried to arrest McClain, saying that he didn't comply with orders to stop walking. One cop put him in a carotid hold; a paramedic injected him with ketamine to sedate him.
  • What happened next: McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital. He died after being taken off life support six days later. McClain's sister later told media that her brother was wearing an open-face ski mask on the night of the incident because he had anemia and was trying to stay warm.

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  • Public pushback: The Sentinel and CBS Denver report on the international attention the case has earned, as well as the thousands of emails and voicemails received by the office of Adams County District Attorney Dave Young, who originally passed on filing criminal charges. The messages mainly ask Young to further investigate and prosecute the police officers who were involved in the incident.
  • A petition for justice: By Thursday morning on Change.org, nearly 2.7 million people had signed a call to "bring justice for Elijah," per CBS News. "Demand these officers are taken off duty, and that a more in-depth investigation is held," the petition reads.
  • Last words: Some of McClain's last words, as heard in body cam footage shared by the Aurora Police Department, are being widely shared on social media. "I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here... My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies. I don’t eat meat. But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better... I will do it... I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it. I'll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work."
  • County DA responds: When asked by CNN if the public's pressing on the case would affect any future moves he makes, Young responded: "We've got to have the evidence ... so the petitions, the emails, the voicemails and Facebook attacks to me, my family, everyone else expressing their opinions ... is not evidence." He added he thinks the police officers "could've done things differently."
  • Attorney nixed: Earlier this month, CBS Denver reported that the city of Aurora had canceled the contract of lawyer Eric Daigle, an ex-cop who'd been set to lead the probe in McClain's death. The Aurora City Council has instead requested an independent third-party review. "An attorney with a long career in law enforcement that specializes in defending municipal police departments from liability claims doesn't qualify, in our minds, as a neutral review," council members said in a statement.
  • 'An angel among humans': Mari Newman, the attorney for McClain's family, tells CBS Denver that charges should be filed against the officers involved. "[McClain] would go to play his violin on his lunch hour to animals who were waiting to be adopted so they wouldn't be lonely," she says. "This is not a person who should ever have been contacted by law enforcement, much less murdered in cold blood as he was."
(Read more Elijah McClain stories.)

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