A Colorado judge has found that evidence against the five former Aurora police officers and paramedics in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain is strong enough to pursue criminal cases.
Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist and skilled violist, died following an encounter with police in August 2019 while he was walking home from a convenience store.
A passerby had called 911 to report McClain as “sketchy,” as he was wearing a ski mask on a warm night. McClain’s lawyer later attributed this to the fact that McClain was anemic and often cold.
Aurora police officers responded to the scene, grabbing McClain and using a carotid control hold, which led to McClain saying, “I can’t breathe,” and struggling against the police, according to police body camera footage.
Paramedics arrived, giving McClain an “excessive” dose of ketamine, according to McCain’s lawyer, and McClain suffered from cardiac arrest shortly after in an ambulance. McClain was pronounced dead three days later.
The five defendants were indicted in McClain’s death in August 2021 on several charges, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, according to officials.
Lawyers representing the three officers and two paramedics asked Adams County District Court Judge Priscilla Loew to review the cases, arguing that there was not enough evidence to support the charges against their clients, according to court documents
Now, almost a year after the defendants were indicted by a grand jury on a combined 32 counts, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, Loew announced on Monday that the case would not be thrown out
In her order, Loew wrote that based upon the grand jury materials, “there is sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for each of the counts listed in the grand jury indictment filed with the court on Sept. 1, 2022.”
All five defendants have been scheduled to appear in court for arraignment on Aug. 12, according to court documents.
The Aurora Police Department declined to comment on the decision. The city’s EMS department also declined to comment.
Iris Halpern, the McClain family lawyer, said that criminal accountability has been a main goal for Sheheen McClain, Elijah’s mother.
Halpern said that this particular case remains important to McCain because she believes individual accountability is essential, especially in situations tied to larger, structural issues such as police reform.
“We’ve been standing by the family throughout the case and the pain they’ve suffered,” Halpern told ABC News. “These are real humans with loved ones and this issue impacts not only the victim, but those around them in the aftermath.”
Following the 2021 indictment of the five defendants, the Aurora Police Association Board of Directors released a statement in defense of the officers.
“There is no evidence that APD officers caused his death. The hysterical overreaction to this case has severely damaged the police department,” the Aurora Police Association Board of Directors said in a statement.
The Aurora Police Association has not yet responded to ABC News’ request for comment.
Following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, calls for a further investigation of McClain’s death were reignited.
In June 2020, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the case and file charges if “the facts support prosecution.”
The next month, the Aurora City Council had ordered a private investigation of McClain’s death, which was released in February 2021.
The council concluded that the original investigation by the Aurora Police Department’s major crimes unit was badly flawed and alleged the detectives “stretched the record to exonerate the officers rather than present a neutral version of the facts.”
“This case is a textbook example of law enforcement’s disparate and racist treatment of Black men,” McClain’s family and their lawyers said in a joint statement issued following the report’s release. “Aurora’s continued failure to acknowledge the wrongdoing of its employees only exacerbates the problem.”
In November 2021, the McClain family reached a $15 million settlement with the city of Aurora in the civil rights lawsuit filed over McClain’s violent arrest and subsequent death. It is the highest police settlement in the history of Colorado, according to police.
The case will continue following the defendants’ arraignment on August 12.
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