A temporary mural of Elijah McClain painted on a building in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Evans)
McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, died in August of 2019 following his violent arrest by Aurora Police Department officers and Aurora Fire paramedics.
“No amount of money will ever bring Elijah back to his mother,” attorneys for McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, said in a Friday statement. “Ms. McClain would return every cent for just one more day with her son.”
“No amount of money can change what happened or erase the pain and heartbreak experienced by the family over his loss,” Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said in a separate statement. “This tragedy has greatly changed and shaped Aurora.”
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On Thursday, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Reid Neureiter granted a motion filed by attorneys for McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, to restrict the public release of the settlement agreement, which was under negotiation at the time. It was not immediately clear whether the finalized version of the agreement would be authorized for release.
A hearing Friday addressed how the settlement money would be divided between the plaintiffs, but didn’t end in a resolution. In the near future, another hearing will determine the final distribution of the settlement money between Sheneen McClain — “who raised Elijah as a single parent,” her attorneys noted — and his father.
“There is no amount of money in the world that will make up for losing my son, but hopefully this sends a message to police everywhere that there are consequences for their actions,” Mosley said in a statement provided by his attorney. “I hope Elijah’s legacy is that police will think twice before killing another innocent person.”
Elijah McClain was not suspected of committing any crime at the time of his arrest on Aug. 24, 2019. Rather, he had been walking home from a convenience store when someone called 911 to report him as acting suspicious. Reports detail officers’ physical assault of McClain and paramedics’ administration of the powerful anesthetic ketamine at a dose much too high for someone McClain’s size. McClain was taken off life support several days after the incident.
“The force that Aurora officers used against Elijah included compressing his neck and the blood flow to his brain with two consecutive carotid holds, cranking his left shoulder with an armbar hammerlock that caused it to repeatedly pop, and, even after he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, continuing to crush him under the weight of their bodies,” the August 2020 lawsuit said.
Responding officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema, along with paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, were indicted by a statewide grand jury in connection with the incident on charges including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
There is nothing that can rectify the loss of Elijah McClain and the suffering his loved ones have endured. I am committed to learning from this tragedy.
– Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson
However, Aurora’s maximum insurance payout for police-related claims decreased from $10 million to $8 million in 2021, Luby said in an email. That change would affect settlements over police-related incidents occurring on or after 2021. Luby noted that other cities had experienced similar changes to their insurance policies in recent years.
“There is nothing that can rectify the loss of Elijah McClain and the suffering his loved ones have endured,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said in the city’s Friday statement. “I am committed to learning from this tragedy.”
Data provided by Luby shows the McClain settlement is the largest payout for an Aurora police-related incident since at least 2010.
In 2017, the estate of Naeschylus Vinzant was paid $2.6 million in a wrongful-death settlement with the city of Aurora. In 2020, the estate of Richard Black was paid $1.5 million in another wrongful-death settlement. Those were previously the two largest Aurora police-related settlements since 2010 — and both were dwarfed by the McClain settlement.
“In the two years since we began work on this lawsuit, there has been a revolution in Colorado’s – and the country’s — acknowledgment of the scourge of racist police brutality,” Mari Newman, an attorney for Mosley, said in a statement. “Thousands have chanted Elijah’s name in the streets of Colorado and the nation. … Now, Aurora’s acknowledgment of the wrong it committed, through this settlement, will hopefully bring some measure of peace and healing to Elijah’s family and the millions of people across the nation who have demanded justice for Elijah McClain.”
A statement from the city referenced Aurora’s “A New Way” plan, which aims to restore the community’s trust in the police department in the aftermath of McClain’s death through a series of actions and policy changes. For example, the Aurora Police Department announced in September that it is finalizing a policy instructing first responders on how a person in the custody of police should be transitioned to the care of on-scene medical staff.
On Tuesday, a consent decree was announced between Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office and Aurora’s police and fire departments. The agreement resulted from a state investigation that found a pattern and practice of racially biased policing in Aurora.
Senate Bill 20-217 — passed in response to public outrage over the deaths of McClain, George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police — enabled the state attorney general to conduct such investigations, a power previously limited to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The consent decree directs the Aurora police and fire departments to change their use-of-force policies, develop a system to collect information about police interactions, work to hire employees that reflect the city’s diversity and review policies over the administration of drugs like ketamine.
“In the two years since he died, we have taken a hard look at our policies, our biases and our need to listen to our community,” Twombly said in the city’s Friday statement. “We will not waver from our commitment to have an engaged, involved and heard community, and city departments and agencies that embody the rich, culturally diverse community we serve.”
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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include statements from Sheneen McClain’s attorneys, LaWayne Mosley and Mari Newman.
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