Chief: No discipline while state eyes death of Black man
DENVER (AP) — Following the release of a highly critical report about the arrest and death of Elijah McClain in Colorado and a police investigation into the events, Aurora’s police chief said Tuesday she could not discipline anyone involved while the state attorney general is still conducting a criminal investigation into what happened.
Chief Vanessa Wilson said she did not want to do anything that might influence a grand jury that state Attorney General Phil Weiser has convened as part of his investigation into whether anyone should be prosecuted in the case involving the 23-year-old Black man. She declined to say whether she would take disciplinary action if Weiser does not find evidence that a crime was committed.
The report was done by a team of three outside investigators commissioned by the city of Aurora, where the arrest happened. It was released Monday and found that officers did not appear to have any legal reason to stop McClain in 2019.
It also criticized the Aurora Police Department’s investigation of the officers’ actions as one that seemed designed to justify their actions rather than find the truth, and it faulted firefighters and paramedics for not examining McClain before deciding to use ketamine to sedate him.
McClain had been walking down a street apparently listening to music when a man called 911 to report that he was gesturing strangely, wearing a ski mask and seemed suspicious. His family said he wore the mask because he had a blood condition that caused him to get cold easily.
Wilson said she realized that people’s view of the detectives who investigated the McClain arrest had been “tainted,” but she called them “good investigators.”
Wilson has made procedural changes in response to McClain’s death since becoming chief last year, including giving officers discretion about whether to approach someone who has been reported as suspicious if they are not doing anything wrong.
She said McClain should still be alive and acknowledged the “extreme grief and anger” felt by his family and friends.
“Nothing I can say here today or changes that I’ve made or changes I will continue to make can bring him back and for that I am extremely sorry,” she said.
In response to the report, city manager Jim Twombly said he would work with the mayor and city council to establish an independent monitor to provide accountability and transparency for the police department.
“A system of accountability should not be dependent on who sits in the chief ’s chair. It needs to be put into place so that it functions and represents the community’s desire for constitutional, unbiased and respectful policing that holds officers accountable,” he said.