Elijah McClain was only 23 years old. He was kind, gentle, and introverted, and worked as a massage therapist in Aurora, Colorado. On his lunch breaks from work, Elijah would visit animal shelters and play his violin for the animals because he thought that they were lonely in their cages, and that music could calm them. He was a pacifist, a vegetarian, enjoyed running, and was known to put a smile on everyone’s face.
On August 24, 2019, Elijah went to a local convenience store to buy iced tea for his brother. His sister told a local ABC affiliate, Denver7, that he was wearing an open-face ski mask because he “had anemia and would sometimes get cold.” On his way home, the Aurora Police department were called to reports of a “suspicious person” wearing a mask and waving his hands. And although he was unarmed, simply walking home and listening to music, police say “a struggle ensued.”
Trigger Warning: Description of Violence Below
911 dispatched three police officers, Nathan Woodward, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema who met Elijah on his walk home. The three of them violently apprehended him, and one placed him in a carotid hold, which involves an officer applying pressure to the side of a person’s neck in order to temporarily cut off blood flow to the brain (this use of excessive force is now banned by the Aurora Police department). He was held in a carotid hold around his neck while he cried for help, cried out that he couldn’t breathe, and cried out that he was nonviolent and couldn’t even kill a fly.
Elijah’s last words during this struggle were, “I’m an introvert. I’m just different that’s all. I’m so sorry. I don’t have a gun. I don’t do that stuff. All I was trying to do was become better. I’ll do it…You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful. And I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m sorry.”
In bodycam footage obtained by McClain’s family, an officer threatens him for struggling. “He is laying on the ground vomiting, he is begging, he is saying, ‘I can’t breathe,'” described Mari Newman, the McClain family lawyer. “One of the officers says, ‘Don’t move again. If you move again, I’m calling in a dog to bite you.'”
The officers called Aurora First Responders, and paramedics injected Elijah with what they claim was a “therapeutic” amount of ketamine, a drug used to tranquilize horses, to sedate him while officers held him down. This caused him to go into cardiac arrest on his way to the hospital, and he fell into a coma. His family said at the time that he was brain dead, and covered in bruises. His family was advised to take him off life support on August 30. Elijah passed away at the age of 23.
The body cameras of the cops involved all somehow got dislodged; a coincidence that Mari Newman believes was a purposeful effort to disguise excessive and ultimately lethal force by Aurora officers. Mari is currently assembling a civil-rights lawsuit on their behalf.
Update 7/5/20 – Nathan Woodward, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema were placed on administrative leave and later reinstated. After the autopsy report was released, Dave Young, the Adams County district attorney, announced that criminal charges would not be filed against them.
Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado ordered the attorney general to investigate the death of Mr. McClain, saying he “should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern.”
Vanessa Wilson, the interim chief of the Aurora Police Department, said she fired the officers on July 3rd for conduct unbecoming. A fourth officer also resigned.
Chief Wilson revealed a photo of officers Erica Marrero, Kyle Dittrich and Jaron Jones grinning in selfies they took last October near a memorial that had been set up in Elijah McClain’s memory. Another photo showed Officer Dittrich smiling widely as Officer Jones wraps his arm around his neck, mocking the death of Elijah. Officer Marrero is grinning in the background. The photos were then sent to Officer Jason Rosenblatt, one of the three officers who apprehended Elijah last summer.
He texted back “haha,” according to Chief Wilson. Officer Rosenblatt, who has been with the department for three years, was fired on July 3rd along with Officers Marrero and Dittrich. Officer Jones resigned on Tuesday. “I am disgusted to my core,” said Chief Wilson, who apologized several times to the McClain family during the news conference. She also apologized to police officers nationwide whose reputations she said were “unfairly besmirched by the actions of the officers in her department.”
The F.B.I. and the Justice Department are investigating Elijah’s death, and Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado has asked the state attorney general to investigate the case, Chief Wilson said.
Elijah’s voice has been taken from him, and now it is up to us to be his voice and to demand justice for him and his family.
How You Can Help
Continue to share his story and say his name
Repost and share Elijah’s story. Use the hashtags #JusticeForElijahMcClain #JusticeForElijah #JusticeForEli on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Sign the petition
Sign the Change.org petition to demand all officers be taken off duty, and that a more in-depth investigation is held. (Do not donate money to Change.org as it will not go toward Elijah’s family; instead donate to his official GoFundMe) At the time of writing, it has over 2 million signatures.
Donate to his family
Call and email Aurora authorities
District Attorney Dave Young told Colorado Politics, “I don’t open up investigations based on petitions. Obviously, if there is new evidence to look at, I will look at the evidence in any case.” Sign the petition anyways to show that you stand with Elijah. Update – after mass public pressure, the case has been reopened on June 25th.
The city manager selected an investigator to conduct an external review of the case, but Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said that the city terminated its contract with the appointed investigator, who was an attorney and a former police officer.
Call, email, and tag Aurora officials to demand charges and accountability from Nathan Woodward, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema.
Call Governor Jared Polis
Call Mayor Mike Coffman
Call DA Dave Young
Call District Chief Judge Emily E. Anderson
Call Deputy Attorney Nancy Rodgers
Call Aurora City Attorney Daniel L. Brotzman
What to say when you call
“I am calling on behalf of Elijah McClain. We demand that officers Nathan Woodward, Jason Rosenblatt, Randy Roedema, Matthew Green, and Sgt Dale Leonard as well as Lt. Peter Chichuniec and Medic Jeremy Cooper of Aurora Fire Rescue are fired immediately and charged for killing Elijah McClain. We demand a public apology and admission of guilt, specifically on behalf of Dave Young, who found that the officers did not violate any criminal laws. Elijah McClain was a 23 year-old man with limitless potential. Our world lost an incredible person and we demand justice. Take accountability.”
What to email
Click here for a prewritten email made out to Aurora officials. Be sure to add your own words throughout to make the email stand out and bypass junk filters.