Federal authorities are reviewing whether a civil rights investigation is warranted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after Colorado police put him in a chokehold, officials said Tuesday.
Authorities are also examining reports that “multiple” police officers in the city of Aurora were placed on administrative leave amid allegations that photos showed them near the site where McClain died.
In a joint statement, the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Denver FBI office said they made the unusual disclosures about the investigations because of “recent attention” to McClain’s Aug. 24 death.
Three officers involved in the case have been moved to “non-enforcement” duties.
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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor last week to investigate after the local district declined to file charges against the officers involved in McClain’s arrest. On Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered outside Aurora’s municipal building to demand justice, and on Monday, interim Aurora police chief Vanessa Wilson said that internal affairs officers were investigating the photos.
Wilson did not say what the photos showed or how many offers were placed on leave, and the department did not respond to a request for additional information.
McClain, a massage therapist and violinist, was stopped by police after walking to a Shell gas station to buy a drink. He was wearing a ski mask at the time — something he often did when he was cold, his family has said.
A 911 caller reported a suspicious person wearing a mask who looked “sketchy” while walking on a street north of central Aurora, a city of roughly 380,000 east of Denver. The caller told police that he hadn’t seen a weapon but the person might be a “bad man.”
Video of an encounter with three responding police officers shows McClain telling them that he’s an introvert on his way home.
“Leave me alone,” he says.
Police have said that McClain refused to stop walking and resisted contact. During a struggle that followed, police administered a chokehold. In the video, McClain can be heard saying that he “can’t breathe correctly.”
McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital after paramedics administered a sedative to calm him. He was later declared brain dead and taken off life support Aug. 30.