The parents of Elijah McClain on Aug. 11 sued the City of Aurora and members of its police and fire departments for civil rights violations and the wrongful death of their son, who died a year ago after being forcefully restrained by police and injected with the sedative ketamine by paramedics.
The lawsuit alleges use of excessive force in violation of McClain’s Fourth Amendment rights, equal protection violations and other Fourteenth Amendment violations as well as wrongful death and negligence claims under state law. McClain’s parents are requesting declaratory and injunctive relief as well as economic losses and damages.
According to the complaint, racial bias was a motivating factor in law enforcement’s unconstitutional treatment of McClain, who was Black, and the city’s practice and policies of condoning and covering up excessive force and racially biased policing were the “moving force behind” and “proximate cause of” the violations against McClain.
“Aurora has a longstanding, widespread, and deliberately indifferent custom, habit, practice, and/or policy of condoning and ratifying use of excessive force, particularly against Black people,” said the complaint filed by Killmer Lane & Newman attorneys.
From 2013 to 2019, the Aurora Police Department ranked 8th out of the 100 largest U.S. cities for police killings per capita, the lawsuit says, and the APD killed Black people at four times the rate it killed white people. The complaint also cites more than two dozen other examples of APD officers using excessive force against people of color over the past two decades.
On Aug. 24, 2109, 23-year-old McClain was walking home from a convenience store blocks from his Aurora home when he was stopped by police. A passing motorist had reported McClain for “unusual behavior” because he was wearing a face mask – a regular habit as he got cold easily, according to the complaint – and was making arm motions. Although McClain was not suspected of any crime, the lawsuit said, officers seized him and put him in a carotid hold, a type of chokehold the complaint refers to as a “notoriously dangerous technique.”
McClain was then tackled to the ground and, the complaint says, was close to passing out, if not fully unconscious. The young man was pinned down by officers twice his size and handcuffed, the lawsuit says, while he vomited and struggled to breathe.
After Aurora Fire Rescue personnel arrived at the scene, AFR paramedics “intentionally and recklessly reported false observations” to claim McClain suffered from excited delirium, according to the lawsuit, and AFR medic Jeremy Cooper injected him with 500 mg of ketamine — a dose far greater than recommended for a 140-pound man like McClain — to sedate him.
McClain suffered cardiac arrest while being transported from the scene and was pronounced brain dead and taken off life support days later. An autopsy released in November by the coroner’s office for Adams and Broomfield counties declared McClain’s cause of death “undetermined.” But in the complaint, attorneys for the McClain family blamed the “dangerous overdose of ketamine” combined with metabolic acidosis – in McClain’s case, a buildup of lactic acid in the blood – resulting from the APD’s use of excessive force.
“Elijah committed no crime, yet, like many interactions between Black people and the City of Aurora, his ended in tragedy,” states the lawsuit. “In a span of eighteen minutes, Defendants subjected Elijah to a procession of needless and brutal force techniques and unnecessary, recklessly administered medication, the combined effects of which he could not survive.”
The June killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has put the spotlight on McClain’s death, and the international attention has prompted the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment to reopen an investigation into AFR’s use of ketamine on McClain.
Also on Tuesday, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced his office has opened an investigation into the APD to determine whether its “patterns and practices” might deprive people of their constitutional rights. In June, Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order appointing Weiser as special prosecutor to investigate McClain’s death and potentially file criminal charges against those responsible.