Aurora leaders were updated Monday night on the city’s ongoing efforts to have an independent third-party investigation of Elijah McClain’s death.
City Manager Jim Twombly, speaking to Mayor Mike Coffman and city council members in a study session, said the job is too big for one person and a team will be assembled including both local and national members.
“We are still in the process of reaching out and making sure we get the right people involved,” Twombly said.
A panel is currently being put together by Twombly and Councilwoman Allison Hiltz. The pair expect to have names of candidates ready for the July 20 study session.
The panel will be led by someone with expertise in justice department civil rights litigation, perhaps a retired judge, and also include a member with medical background, Twombly said.
Once assembled, and passed by a city council vote, the team will go about its work looking at prior reviews and investigations with the goal of making recommendations and changes to police and fire department policies, directives and training. It will not be a criminal investigation.
“As far as scope goes, we are looking for independence,” Hiltz said. “We’ll be looking for any recommendation the committee will make to change our practices and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
On June 10 Aurora city leaders canceled a contract for a third-party investigation into McClain’s death when council members raised concerns that a former police officer was hired for the job.
McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, was stopped by police in August after a call about a suspicious person. In a violent struggle, police used a carotid choke hold on McClain and he was was given a dose of ketamine. He later died at a local hospital.
In November, District Attorney Dave Young announced that no criminal charges will be filed against the Aurora police officers involved in McClain’s death.
The incident has gained national attention is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department and the Colorado Attorney General.
On Friday Aurora’s interim police chief fired two officers who posed for a photo reenacting a chokehold at the site of Elijah McClain’s arrest, and terminated a third officer who received the mocking picture. Another officer involved in the photo scandal resigned on Tuesday.
City council on Monday night also heard a presentation on the prohibition of the use of chokeholds and carotid holds by police. Aurora police — after McClain’s death and the death of George Floyd — have banned the use of carotid holds by officers. The city is considering writing such a prohibition into city code.
A presentation on the third-party investigation will be made to the city’s public safety committee on July 16, just before the city council’s July 20 study session.
“It is important the full council has a say in this,” Hiltz said. “We are really committed to have council discussion on it.”
McClain’s death has become a national and local focal point in the ongoing calls for police reform. Rallies calling for justice in his death have been held in Aurora and elsewhere across the country.
“This is a time sensitive issue,” Coffman said. “The community wants closure, we want closure. The sooner this is on the ground it will be appreciated by many.”
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