AP

Denver suburb to pay $15M to settle Elijah McClain lawsuit

Nov 19, 2021, 6:39 PM
FILE - Demonstrators carry a giant placard during a rally and march over the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain outside the police department in Aurora, Colo., on June 27, 2020. The Denver suburb of Aurora has agreed to pay $15 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the parents of Elijah McClain, a Black man who died after suburban Denver police stopped him on the street and put him in a neckhold two years ago, a family attorney said Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DENVER (AP) — The Denver suburb of Aurora has agreed to pay $15 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the parents of Elijah McClain, a Black man who died after suburban Denver police stopped him on the street and put him in a neck hold two years ago, the city and family attorneys announced Friday.

A federal magistrate judge accepted terms of the settlement after a mediation session, said Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney for McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain.

Outside court, Sheneen McClain said she was glad to have the agreement finalized but noted the work of fighting for justice for her son just makes her miss him more.

“The money is just the world’s way of saying, ‘We’re sorry,’ but it’s not going to help me heal the hole in my heart,” she said.

The settlement amount was agreed to in July but not officially disclosed until now because of a dispute between McClain’s parents about how the wording of the agreement could impact their dispute over how the money should be divided. Sheneen McClain said Elijah’s father, LaWayne Mosley, was not involved in raising him. How the money will be divided will be addressed separately.

In a statement, Mosley did not address the dispute but said he hoped the settlement would send a message to police.

“I hope Elijah’s legacy is that police will think twice before killing another innocent person,” he said.

Mosley’s lawyer, Mari Newman, said the settlement was the largest ever in Colorado in a civil rights case and only the latest example of a new standard of accountability for police since protests over the killing of George Floyd as well as McClain.

The size of the settlement was emblematic of the harm done to both McClain’s mother and the community, Mohamedbhai said.

The lawsuit alleged the police’s violent treatment of McClain amounted to torture and was part of a pattern of racially biased policing that has involved aggression and violence against Black people. Paramedics also injected him with a powerful sedative.

McClain was a 23-year-old massage therapist who played his violin for cats in a rescue shelter.

His 2019 death and his pleading words to police on body camera footage — “I’m an introvert, and I’m just different” — drew widespread attention after Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis set off global protests last year.

The local prosecutor declined to file charges against the three officers who confronted McClain, partly because an autopsy could not determine exactly how he died. However, a grand jury indicted the officers and two paramedics in September following an investigation by Attorney General Phil Weiser ordered by Gov. Jared Polis.

“No amount of money can change what happened or erase the pain and heartbreak experienced by the family over his loss,” Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said in a news release. “This tragedy has greatly changed and shaped Aurora.”

Twombly and other city officials called the settlement an important step in restoring community trust, saying McClain’s death has led the city to take a hard look at its policies.

“There is nothing that can rectify the loss of Elijah McClain and the suffering his loved ones have endured,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said in the news release. “I am committed to learning from this tragedy.”

The lawsuit alleged the extreme force officers used against McClain and his struggle to survive it dramatically increased the amount of lactic acid in his system, leading to his death, possibly along with the large dose of the sedative ketamine he was given.

An outside investigation commissioned by the city faulted the police probe into McClain’s arrest for not pressing for answers about how officers treated him. It found there was no evidence justifying officers’ decision to stop McClain, who had been reported as suspicious because he was wearing a ski mask as he walked down the street waving his hands. He had not been accused of breaking any law.

One of the three officers who arrested McClain was fired last year, but not for stopping him. Jason Rosenblatt lost his job for responding “ha ha” to a photo taken by other former officers reenacting the neck hold at a memorial to McClain.

Aurora police have been plagued by other allegations of misconduct against people of color.

Last year, the department came under fire for handcuffing four Black girls who were held face down in a parking lot in a mix-up over a stolen car. Prosecutors said officers committed no crime.

This summer, an officer shown on body camera footage beating a Black man with his gun was charged with assault and resigned. Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who took over the department last year amid the increased attention on McClain’s death, quickly denounced the officer’s actions, calling it a “very despicable act.”

On Tuesday, Weiser and city officials announced the city had agreed to reforms following a first-of-its-kind civil rights investigation by Weiser’s office that found a pattern of racially biased policing and excessive force.

A monitor who will oversee if Aurora is following the plan and meeting milestones over about five years has yet to be hired.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

FILE - Fireworks explode over Baltimore's Inner Harbor during the Ports America Chesapeake 4th of J...
BOBBY CAINA CALVAN ASSOCIATED PRESS

A turbulent US this July 4, but many see cause to celebrate

July 4 has arrived as many citizens struggle to find a reason to celebrate. Yet many also see cause for celebration, including President Joe Biden.
10 hours ago
A Navy soldier stands guard as authorities wait for the arrival of people who were evacuated from t...
Associated Press

Tropical Storm Colin brings rain to Carolinas, weakens

Tropical Storm Colin formed along the coast on Saturday. Conditions are expected to improve by Monday's Fourth of July celebrations.
1 day ago
A female bison and calf are seen near the Yellowstone River in Wyoming's Hayden Valley, on Wednesda...
Mark Jones

2nd visitor in 3 days gored by Yellowstone National Park bison

In less than a week, two visitors to Yellowstone National Park have been gored by bison. Park officials say to stay at least 25 yards away from a bison.
3 days ago
Travelers wait in for a TSA security check at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles,...
DAVID KOENIG ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pre-pandemic sized crowds descend on US airports for holiday

TSA is reporting crowds of pre-pandemic size are traveling this Independence Day.
3 days ago
Residents stand in front of building destroyed by missiles in Ukraine...
FRANCESCA EBEL Associated Press

Russian missiles kill at least 19 in Ukraine’s Odesa region

The Ukrainian president's office said three Kh-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers struck an apartment building and a campsite.
3 days ago
Ketanji Brown Jackson takes the oath for the Supreme Court....
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Jackson sworn in, becomes 1st Black woman on Supreme Court

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, will be sworn as the court's 116th justice Thursday, just as the man she is replacing, Justice Stephen Breyer, retires.
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Denver suburb to pay $15M to settle Elijah McClain lawsuit