The family of a 23-year-old Black man who died after a violent encounter with Aurora, Colorado, police officers filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and its police on Tuesday, alleging murder and routine use of excessive force against Black people.
The man, Elijah McClain, was walking on the street alone in August 2019 when he was stopped by three officers based on a report that he was “being suspicious.”
According to the complaint, the officers held him in two carotid holds around his neck, tackled him although he presented no physical threat, and medics attending to him administered an overdose of ketamine which left him unconscious.
McClain died days later in the hospital.
“Plaintiffs bring this action seeking both accountability for the profound loss of a beautiful soul, and to ensure that Elijah did not die in vain by sending a resounding message that racism and brutality have no place in American law enforcement,” McClain’s family wrote in the complaint.
A spokeswoman for Aurora said the city attorney’s office was reviewing the complaint but had no immediate comment.
The family maintains that McClain had committed no crime and was stopped unlawfully. Citing previous instances of Aurora police forcefully detaining Black people, they alleged that McClain’s case was part of a pattern of racist policing.
The case drew renewed scrutiny and public ire in June as protesters against racial injustice and police brutality took to the streets across the United States after George Floyd, a Black man, died in Minneapolis when an officer knelt on his neck.
The officers’ forceful restraint of McClain lasted 18 minutes and he was handcuffed and on the ground for 15, the complaint said.
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe please. I can’t. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe, please stop,” were among his last words, according to the complaint.
The officers have said that McClain tried to take their guns, but there is no body camera footage to support those statements, the complaint said.
Representatives for the officers could not immediately be reached.
The lawsuit also named Aurora Fire Rescue Department personnel as defendants, alleging that medics failed to care for McClain when they injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative, which impaired his breathing.
According to the complaint, McClain showed no signs of resisting when the medics administered the ketamine; he was lying on the ground and moved only to vomit.
The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Three Aurora police officers were fired and a fourth resigned last month after authorities found that they shared photographs of themselves re-enacting the chokehold used to subdue McClain near the site of the encounter. One of the officers who detained McClain was among those fired.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said last month that it launched a probe into the incident last year. Colorado Governor Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor to review the case in June.
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