The mother of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man who died last summer after an altercation with police in Aurora, Colorado, says her son was murdered. McClain’s death has recently gained renewed attention, and nearly 3 million people have signed a petition calling for a reexamination of his case.
“They murdered him. They are bullies with badges,” Sheneen McClain told CBS News correspondent David Begnaud.
McClain said her son was a massage therapist who “wanted to heal” others. “He not only healed others, he healed himself,” she said. “He was able to accept love and give love in varying forms.”
The district attorney investigating the case, Dave Young, said McClain dismissed repeated requests from police for him to stop on the night of the altercation last August. His family says he was only listening to music while walking home when police approached him.
The report compiled by Young quotes McClain as saying: “Can you leave me alone, you guys started to arrest me and I was stopping my music to listen, now let me go.”
McClain was wearing a ski mask at the time. According to his family, due to some previous physical issues, it wasn’t uncommon for McClain to wear a mask to give him comfort and ease. McClain can be heard on the officer’s body cameras saying, “I’m just different. That’s all.”
Young says McClain was carrying a plastic bag and when police tried to pat him down, he refused. The situation escalated further after Officer Randy Roedema said McClain was reaching for one of the officer’s guns. All three officers then took McClain down to the ground, according to the report.
Attorney Mari Newman, who represents the family, contended that there would be evidence if McClain had grabbed the gun. “Don’t you think if he really had grabbed someone’s gun, we would see fingerprints that have been lifted from the gun?” she said.
When asked if he found any evidence that corroborates Roedema’s claim, Young said he had “no evidence to contradict that.”
McClain is then heard pleading with police as they tackle him and put him in a chokehold. “Let me go, no let me go, I am an introvert, please respect my boundaries that I am speaking,” McClain said. The officer who allegedly put McClain in a chokehold, Nathan Woodyard, later told a detective that he thought McClain might have weapons on him, but that he would not allow himself to be searched.
“I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff,” McClain said to the officers before going unconscious after being restrained with an apparent chokehold. No weapon was ever found.
Paramedics later arrived at the scene and a medic gave McClain ketamine to sedate him. McClain was then taken to the hospital but suffered cardiac arrest that led to anoxic “encephalopathy,” and was pronounced brain dead three days later.
According to the DA’s report, the coroner was unable to determine a cause of death — but didn’t rule out the possibility that ketamine contributed. The coroner wrote that McClain was given a “therapeutic level” of ketamine, but could have had an “idiosyncratic” reaction to the drug.
Young made the initial decision not to charge the officers. When asked if the officer’s actions were justified, he said: “Legally, yes.”
“They could have done a million things differently,” Young said. “He didn’t need to die. And the fact that he died does not warrant the basis for criminal charges.”
Millions of people are now demanding that the officers are taken off duty, and that a more in-depth investigation is held. CBS Denver reports that the District Attorney’s Office has received more than 10,000 phone calls and 2,000 emails asking for the three officers linked to McClain’s death to be charged.
“I’m surprised how long it has taken for the world to take notice of this case,” Newman said.
In a statement released Thursday, Young called McClain’s death “tragic and unnecessary,” but reiterated his belief that the evidence does not support criminal charges.
“While the officers no doubt used force in this incident, based on the evidence and the law applicable at the time of Mr. McClain’s death, the prosecution cannot disprove the officers’ reasonable belief in the necessity to use force,” he wrote.
“Ultimately, while I may share the vast public opinion that Elijah McClain’s death could have been avoided, it is not my role to file criminal charges based on opinion, but rather, on the evidence revealed from the investigation and applicable Colorado law.”