Family of unarmed Black man killed in encounter with Colorado police awarded $15M

The parents of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after an encounter with Aurora, Colorado, police in 2019, will soon receive a $15 million settlement from the city.

The amount is the highest police settlement recorded in Colorado history, media outlets report.

The city of Aurora and attorneys representing McClain’s family confirmed to ABC News that the settlement will be divided between McClain’s mother, Shereen McClain, and father, LaWayne Mosley.

“Nothing will bring back his son Elijah, who he loved dearly, but he is hopeful that this settlement with Aurora, and the criminal charges against the officers and medics ... will allow his family and the community to begin to heal,” attorney Mari Newman told ABC News on Mosley’s behalf.

Legal representatives for Shereen McClain told CBS Denver that she wanted to thank the community for its love, support and commitment to police reform in the wake of her son’s death.

“Ms. McClain raised Elijah as a single mother and his death has left an enormous void in her life,” they said. “While nothing will fill that void, Ms. McClain is hopeful that badly needed reforms to the Aurora Police Department will spare other parents the same heartache.”

The Aurora Police Department and city of Aurora did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News.

McClain’s parents filed a federal lawsuit in August 2020, in which they said that the police officers and paramedics involved in their son’s death violated his constitutional rights.

McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist from Aurora, was apprehended by police on his walk home from a convenience store that night. Officers had responded to a 911 call about a man “wearing a ski mask and jacket and acting strangely,” according to court documents.

Police “grabbed, tackled and assaulted” him for about 18 minutes, 15 of which he spent in handcuffs, the lawsuit states.

“For decades, Aurora police have persistently brutalized people of color, and especially Black people, at a rate significantly greater than their proportion in the Aurora community,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said that Aurora police officers never should have stopped McClain on the night of Aug. 24, 2019, that they never should have tackled him to the ground and choked him, and that paramedics never should have injected him with such a large dose of ketamine, a potent sedative that made McClain’s body go limp after he was handcuffed.

As officers slammed him to the ground and jammed a knee into his arm, they verbally threatened him, saying they would shock him with a Taser him or sic a police dog on him, the lawsuit said.

Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics then injected him with a “massive dose” of ketamine that was “well beyond what a man Elijah’s size should receive,” the lawsuit said.

Minutes afterward, paramedics noticed that McClain had lost a pulse and was not breathing. He never regained consciousness and died in the hospital several days later.

“The extended, needless use of excessive force and torture by Aurora Police Department officers and the subsequent injection of a massive ketamine overdose by Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics overwhelmed Elijah’s body,” the lawsuit said. “He could not recover.”

The lawsuit also said that police officers involved with McClain’s death made fun of the incident afterward, indicating that “Aurora permits and encourages a culture of racial violence in its police department.” For example, the complaint said, several officers took smiling pictures of themselves re-enacting the chokehold used on McClain near a memorial for him and then texted the photos to others in the department.

The officers depicted in the photos were suspended from the department afterward, McClatchy News reported.

An investigation conducted by outside consultants found that McClain’s death “generated substantial concern within the Aurora community immediately after it occurred,” but that no charges were immediately brought against Aurora Police officers.

In September, a grand jury introduced a 32-count indictment against the three officers (Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema) and two paramedics (Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec) involved in the case. The charges against them include criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter and second-degree assault.

In October, the Colorado attorney general issued a report following a probe into the Aurora Police Department’s actions and found that the agency has a history of racial bias and use of excessive force. The report also showed that Aurora police arrested people of color “1.3 times more than whites based on population percentage alone,” ABC News reported.

Aurora’s police department responded to the investigation by agreeing to a set of reforms, including revamping use-of-force policies and launching training programs to combat bias, ABC News reported.

The settlement given to McClain’s family is also among the largest issued in a police misconduct case in the United States. The family of George Floyd received $27 million settlement from the city of Minneapolis, the family of Breonna Taylor received $12 million from the city of Louisville, and the family of Michael Brown received $1.5 million from the city of Ferguson, The Denver Post reported.

Previously, the largest amount given by the city of Aurora in a wrongful death lawsuit was $2.6 million for a 2015 death, CBS Denver reported.

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