DA in Colorado’s 17th district drops charges against five Elijah McClain protest leaders

By: - May 7, 2021 3:19 pm

A temporary mural of Elijah McClain painted on a building in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Evans)

District Attorney Brian Mason announced on Thursday that he will dismiss all felony and misdemeanor charges filed in the 17th Judicial District against five people who led protests last summer demanding justice for Elijah McClain, who died after a violent encounter with Aurora police in August 2019.

“I have an ethical obligation to only proceed on charges my office can prove and to dismiss charges that we cannot prove,” said Mason, who took office in January. “My job is to do the right thing.”

The five people — Lillian House, Joel Northam, Whitney Lucero, Terrance Roberts, and Trey Quinn — were charged in connection to their involvement with a protest that took place outside the Aurora Police Department District 1 Station on July 3, 2020. Over the course of the night, the doors to the station were tied shut by protest participants, leaving officers stuck inside. In a public statement, all five protest leaders denounced the actions.

“The state of Colorado witnessed a large number of demonstrations,” said Quinn in a written statement. “Some of these went in my opinion, too far. The night of the protest surrounding the Aurora police department is an example of the line between peaceful protesting and acts that inherently put the public in danger.”

The five people had been facing a collective 20 charges in the 17th Judicial District. The charges were filed by the previous district attorney, Dave Young, who is also Mason’s previous boss. While Young was in office, he cleared all officers involved in the death of McClain of wrongdoing. 

A felony charge of attempted first-degree kidnapping against House, Northam and Lucero was dismissed by an Adams County Judge in March, according to a press release. House, Northam and Roberts still face criminal charges in the 18th Judicial District in connection with other demonstrations that took place last summer, according to the Aurora Sentinel.

Four investigations — in addition to a civil lawsuit filed by McClain’s family — related to 23-year-old McClain’s death are still pending. 

In February, the city of Aurora released a 157-page report on an independent investigation that detailed how Aurora police officers and paramedics mishandled the encounter that led to McClain’s death at every critical point — including detaining him in the first place.

A grand jury investigation, currently underway, will determine if charges will be filed against the officers and paramedics involved in McClain’s death. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser was designated the state’s special prosecutor for the case in June 2020 by Gov. Jared Polis. 

Weiser is also charged with a department-wide investigation of the Aurora Police Department to determine if there are serious patterns and practices of excessive force and biased policing present. The investigation is pending.

Other pending investigations include a federal probe that seeks to determine if Aurora police violated McClain’s constitutional rights and a department-wide review by the Aurora Police Department that will look into use-of-force procedures, potential discriminatory practices, officer misconduct, civilian complaints, recruitment and hiring, and crisis intervention practices.

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Moe Clark
Moe Clark

Moe Clark is a freelance journalist and former Colorado Newsline reporter who covered criminal justice, housing, homelessness and other social issues.