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Elijah McClain: What we know about the Colorado man's death in police custody

Posted at 11:25 AM, Jun 25, 2020

Weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality have placed a microscope on past instances of police use of force across the country — especially in the case of Elijah McClain.

McClain, 23, died shortly after the Aurora (Colorado) Police Department arrested him on Aug. 24, 2019. An autopsy report says he suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital after an officer placed him a chokehold, which has since been banned by the department.

As of June 25, more than 2 million people have signed a petition calling for justice for McClain.

What happened

According to Scripps station KMGH in Denver, McClain was walking home on Aug. 24 after purchasing iced tea at a convenience store.

He was wearing a ski mask at the time. According to McClain's family, the 23-year-old was anemic and got cold easily.

As McClain walked home, a bystander called 911 to report "a suspicious man wearing a ski mask and waving his arms." Police tracked McClain down. Shortly after, police say he began "resisting." Body camera footage shows officers grab McClain almost immediately after attempting to stop him.

Police later told The Denver Post that "there were no allegations that McClain had done anything criminal."

As police struggled to detain McClain, an officer placed him in a "carotid hold" — a maneuver designed to limit blood flow to the brain. When McClain became unresponsive, paramedics administered a shot of ketamine "due to the level of physical force applied while restraining the subject and his agitated mental state."

Police insist that paramedics were the ones who chose to administer ketamine. Paramedics say the procedure is common in the area.

McClain later suffered a heart attack and died six days later.


On Nov. 10, a coroner released an autopsy report that listed McClain's death as "undetermined" — meaning they could not determine if McCain's death was an accident, a homicide or of natural causes.

The report references multiple abrasions on McClains face, back and legs, and also references some hemorrhaging around his neck.

Though the report notes that the levels of ketamine in McClain's body were at a "therapeutic level," examiners could not rule out that he had an unexpected reaction to the drug.

The coroner ultimately determined that it was most likely McClain's "psychical exertion" that led to his death but stopped short of saying he died of natural causes.


Shortly after the arrest, the officers involved in McClain's arrest were placed on leave. They've since been reinstated.

On Nov. 23, the Aurora Police Department announced that the officers would not face charges.

"There is no evidence that any of the officers sought to cause injury or death to Mr. McClain," a letter from the 17th Judicial District Attorney's Office read. The letter went on to say that the officers' use of force was appropriate given the circumstances.

At a press conference, Aurora Police released police body camera footage from the arrest, which shows officers grab McClain almost immediately after attempting to stop him. Video also shows McClain vomiting and telling him that he couldn't breathe.

On June 5, the Aurora Police Department banned the use of the chokehold officers used during McClain's arrest.

McClain's family has called for an independent investigation into the arrest for months. But it wasn't until June — about 10 months after McClain's death — that steps were taken to put an investigator in place.

But less than 24 hours after Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly announced that Connecticut-based attorney Eric Daigle would lead the third-party investigation into McClain's death, the city severed its contract with Daigle. City Council members had raised concerns about Daigle's neutrality because, according to his website, Daigle's work includes "defending municipalities, police chiefs, and individual officers from law enforcement liability claims."

City officials are still working through steps to conduct a third-party investigation into McClain's death.