The Denver suburb of Aurora has agreed to pay $15 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the parents of Elijah MacLean, a black man who died after Denver suburban police stopped him on the street and put him in a collar two years ago, in the city. The family lawyer announced.
Kassir MuhammadBahi, a lawyer for McClain’s mother, Sheenen MacLean, said the judge agreed to the terms of the settlement on Friday.
The suit alleged that the violent police treatment of McClain amounted to torture and was part of a pattern of racially biased police that included aggression and violence against blacks. Paramedics also injected him with a powerful sedative.
McClain was a 23-year-old massage therapist who played his violin for cats at a rescue shelter.
His death in 2019 and his plea to police on body camera footage – “I’m an introvert, I’m so different” – drew widespread attention after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, sparking global protests last year.
Alleged maximum force lawsuit
The local attorney general refused to press charges against the three officers who confronted McClain, in part because an autopsy was unable to determine exactly how he died. However, a grand jury indicted the officers and two paramedics in September following an investigation by Attorney General Phil Weiser ordered by Governor Jared Polis.
“No amount of money can change what happened or erase the pain and heartbreak the family has experienced over his loss,” Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said in a press release Friday. “This tragedy has changed dramatically and shaped the aurora borealis.”
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson added in the statement: “Nothing can correct the loss of Elijah MacLean and the suffering his loved ones have suffered. I am committed to learning from this tragedy.”
The suit alleged that the extreme force officers used against MacLean and his struggle to survive significantly increased the amount of lactic acid in his system, which resulted in his death, possibly along with the large dose of sedative ketamine he gave him.
An outside investigation commissioned by the city mistook the police investigation into McClain’s arrest for not pressuring him for answers about how he treated officers. It found that there was no evidence to justify the officers’ decision to stop McClain, whose suspicions were reported because he was wearing a ski mask while walking down the street waving his hands. He was not accused of breaking any law.
One of the three officers who arrested McClain was fired last year, but not for being barred. Jason Rosenblatt lost his job over replying “haha” to a photo taken by other former officers re-enacting a neck fist at a memorial to McClain.
Racial bias style
Aurora Police have been plagued by other allegations of misconduct against people of color.
Last year, the department was criticized for handcuffing four black girls who were held to their face in a parking lot in the confusion of a stolen car.
This summer, an officer, who appeared in body cam footage striking a black man with his rifle, was charged with assault and resigned. Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who took over the department last year amid growing interest in McClain’s death, quickly denounced the officer’s actions as a “deeply despicable act”.
On Tuesday, Weiser and city officials announced that the city had agreed to reforms after a first-of-its-kind civil rights investigation by Weiser’s office that found a pattern of racially biased police and excessive force.
The observer who will oversee whether Aurora follows the plan and meets the milestones over the course of about five years has yet to be appointed.