As It Happens

Elijah McClain's father calls for justice after report finds police had no basis to stop his son

LaWayne Mosley says it's long past time for police and paramedics to be held accountable for his son's death. 

Independent report also criticizes the internal police investigation into the young Black man's death

Elijah McClain, right, died days after he was subdued by three Colorado policemen and injected with a powerful sedative in August 2019. (Submitted by family/Reuters)

LaWayne Mosley says it's long past time for police and paramedics to be held accountable for his son's death. 

Mosley is the father of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in August 2019 after police officers in Aurora, Colorado, restrained him and fire paramedics injected him with ketamine. 

An independent report released Monday found that police had no legally justifiable reason to even stop McClain that evening — let alone search him and restrain him with multiple carotid chokeholds, a sometimes deadly move that restricts blood flow to the brain.

"He did everything he could. He identified himself, told them everything. And they still chose to be the aggressors," Mosley told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Monday's scathing 157-page report was written by a team of independent investigators led by Jonathan Smith, a former head of special litigation for the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. It was commissioned by the city council in Aurora, a suburb of Denver. 

It comes after the Adams County district attorney announced in 2019 that criminal charges would not be brought against the officers involved, citing insufficient evidence. 

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Monday's report was particularly critical of the Aurora Police Department's internal investigation, saying it appeared to be designed to justify police actions rather than find the truth. 

It also faulted paramedics for not examining McClain before giving him an unnecessarily powerful dose of ketamine to sedate him.

McClain's father LaWayne Mosley, left, and mother, Sheneen McClain, right, flank the family's lawyer, Mari Newman, during a protest outside city hall in Aurora, Colo. (Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado/The Associated Press)

Moseley is calling on all those involved in his son's death to face criminal charges. 

"You try to do wrong, you do wrong, you pay the consequences. And they did wrong from the top to the bottom. So they all need to be held accountable," he said.

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said Tuesday she could not discipline anyone involved while the state attorney general is still conducting a criminal investigation.

McClain's family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.

What happened to Elijah McClain?

McClain was walking home from a convenience store on Aug. 24, 2019, when police officers stopped him.

The officers were responding to a 911 call about a "sketchy" person wearing a ski mask and waving his arms. McClain's family says he often wore a ski mask because he has anemia, a blood condition that made him get cold easily.

According to the report, one officer decided in less than 10 seconds "to turn what may have been a consensual encounter with Mr. McClain into an investigatory stop" without apparent grounds.

The report found that over the next 18 minutes, "some level of force or the threat of force was used nearly constantly" against McClain. 

Officers pinned him to the ground, kneeled on him, used various restraint holds, and even threatened to have a police dog bite him, it found. 

A man wearing glasses and a plaid shirt poses for a portrait
Friends and family describe McClain as a kind-hearted young man who loved animals. (Family photo/Reuters)

Audio from police body cameras showed McClain was "apologetic and confused, not angry or threatening" during the arrest, the report says. He could be heard telling the officers that were hurting him and he couldn't breath.

"I was just going home … I'm an introvert and I'm different. Going home … I'm just different. I'm just different. That's all. That's all I was doing. I'm so sorry," McClain told the officers. 

When Aurora Fire Department paramedics arrived on scene, police declared that McClain had "excited delirium" — a medically contentious diagnosis — and paramedics administered ketamine.

"If you're in a hospital setting, that's when you administer hospital drugs. Not on the side of a road. Not because of what a police officer says," Mosely said. "A cop can tell you that."

The report says paramedics overestimated McClain's weight by 40 to 80 pounds when they dosed him, thereby giving him too much ketamine for someone his size.

"He was 140 pounds, a slim-jim, and they gave him a shot for a 200-pound man," McClain's father said. 

McClain went into cardiac arrest. He was declared brain dead three days later, and was removed from life support.

'Sweet, sweet young man'

McClain's death didn't make many headlines outside of Colorado until the Minneapolis police killing of George Flloyd in May sparked an international reckoning and protest movement against anti-Black racism and police violence. 

Since then, the massage therapist's name and face have appeared on protest signs around the world.

His friends and loved ones have described him as a kind-hearted young man who loved music and animals, and who used his lunch breaks to play guitar and violin for abandoned cats and dogs at a nearby shelter. 

Two people embrace near a mural of Elijah McClain in Denver, Colo. (Kevin Mohatt/Reuters)

"He was bright. He was actually a bundle of joy. He was a very special guy. Like I said, made everybody smile, made everybody feel good. Didn't like violence. Would give you the shirt off his back, help you if he could, any kind of way," McClain's father said. 

"Just a true, true, sweet, sweet young man."

When addressing the report on Tuesday, Police Chief Wilson said she did not want to do anything that might influence a grand jury that state Attorney General Phil Weiser has convened as part of his investigation into whether anyone should be prosecuted for McClain's death.

She declined to say whether she would take disciplinary action if Weiser does not find evidence that a crime was committed.

"Nothing I can say here today or changes that I've made or changes I will continue to make can bring him back and for that I am extremely sorry," Wilson told reporters. "The bottom line is, Elijah McClain should still be here today."

On that, at least, she and Mosely are on the same page. 

"He should be alive. He really should be," Mosley said. "We agree on that."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters and The Associated Press. Interview with LaWayne Mosley produced by Katie Geleff. 

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