Report on Aurora investigation into Elijah McClain’s death set for January release

5 investigations related to the death of 23-year-old McClain are pending

A memorial at the site where 23-year-old Elijah McClain was violently detained by Aurora police in August 2019 while he was walking home from a convenience story. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

Aurora city manager Jim Twombly gave an update on two pending city investigations into the Elijah McClain case and the Aurora Police Department during a city council committee meeting on Thursday.

There are currently five separate investigations into the Aurora Police Department and the death of 23-year-old McClain, who died days after a violent encounter with police while walking home from a convenience store on Aug. 24, 2019. The city of Aurora is conducting two of the investigations.

The first city investigation into the McClain case is being led by Washington-based lawyer Jonathan Smith. The investigation will evaluate how the police and paramedics conducted McClain’s arrest. 

“They’re making good progress,” Twombly said during Thursday’s Public Safety, Courts and Civil Service Policy committee meeting. “They will be getting into the report writing stage, probably right after Thanksgiving, so he’s looking at a January presentation.” 

Mari Newman, an attorney representing the family of Elijah McClain, speaks to a crowd outside of the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in Aurora on Aug. 30, 2020. (Carl Payne/Colorado Newsline)

Over the last month, Smith’s team has conducted interviews with 911 personnel, members of the fire department and police officers about standard operating procedures and policies as well as reviewing audio and recording of calls related to the case, according to Twombly. 

“He’s in the process of wrapping up interviews,” Twombly said, adding that Smith’s team is also conducting interviews with community members to get a sense of how the case was handled in the aftermath of McClain’s death. 

During the update, Twombly did not indicate a timeline for the other department-wide review of Aurora police, which is being led by consulting firm 21CP Solutions. The investigation will look into the department’s leadership structure, use-of-force procedures, potential discriminatory practices, officer misconduct, civilian complaints, recruitment and hiring, and crisis intervention practices, according to a city press release on Aug. 14.

“I talked with them a couple of weeks ago about their progress on their thorough review of the department, and they’re making good progress,” he said. “They have a team of about six or seven different experts that are looking at different aspects.”

Twombly said he asked 21CP to expedite the portion of the study related to the department’s hiring procedures, given concerns about those practices that had previously been raised.

During the committee’s September meeting, council members received a presentation from the city’s Civil Service Commission, which aids in hiring for the fire and police departments. Numerous council members expressed serious concerns about the current hiring process, stressing that the current framework is leading to racist outcomes.

Twombly said he plans to check back with the 21CP team in the coming weeks to get another update.

Last week, Gov. Jared Polis amended an executive order originally issued in June that designated Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser as the state’s special prosecutor to investigate the death of McClain. Weiser is also conducting a separate department-wide investigation into the Aurora Police Department. The fifth investigation related to the McClain case is a federal probe into whether Aurora police violated McClain’s constitutional rights.

The amendment changes the language in the order to broaden who can be criminally prosecuted in the case. In the original order, Polis directed Weiser to prosecute, if necessary, “any potential criminal activity by law enforcement officers or any other individuals” involved in McClain’s death. The new language replaces “law enforcement officers” with “any persons.” 

Activists are planning a protest on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Colorado Capitol over the changed language. On the Facebook event page, organizers say that the amendment loosens Weiser’s authority and allows him to “come back with watered down charges against the killers, like we saw in Breonna Taylor’s case.” The action is being organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

The next Aurora Public Safety, Courts & Civil Service committee meeting is scheduled for Dec. 10 at 11 a.m..