Independent experts discuss findings in Elijah McClain’s death investigation

AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Three experts who spent six months reviewing the death of Elijah McClain after an encounter with Aurora police released a report finding several “areas of concern” in the police and fire departments. They provided several recommendations.

In a call with Denver-area reporters Tuesday, three independent consultants — Jonathan Smith, Dr. Melissa Costello and Roberto Villaseñor — answered questions about the 157-page report they presented to Aurora City Council Monday night.

Police chief answers questions about discipline plans for officers involved in Elijah McClain altercation

“Some of those common themes have materialized in this case, and I think the most significant one is a failure in accountability systems,” said Jonathan Smith, the executive director of the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Smith says the scope of their investigation was not to make a judgment of wrongdoing, but to give recommendations for new policy.

There are currently seven other investigations ongoing in the death of Elijah McClain, ranging from criminal to civil and federal to local.

“Whether there’s criminal liability, whether there’s civil liability, those are decisions that are going to be made by other people,” Smith said.

The report also found “significant weaknesses” and “serious concerns” with the Aurora Police Department’s accountability system and the manner in which it handled the initial investigation into McClain’s death.

“The post-event investigation was flawed and failed to meaningfully develop a fulsome record,” the report found.

“It’s not just one thing that’s going to bring about change, and it’s not going to be one report or one investigation,” said Villaseñor, also on the panel and a police chief of 15 years in Tucson, Arizona. “It’s going to have to be a constant effort by the agency plus the community.”

The FOX31 Problem Solvers asked medical expert, Costello, if she would have administered ketamine on McClain had she been on scene herself.

“With the information they had at the time the decision was made, I back the decision that was made with the information that they had,” Costello said. “I think the information they had was limited. The lag between the decision to sedate and the action to sedate allowed a clinical change that may have changed my mind.”

In Aurora, the police chief has the authority to trigger internal affairs investigations, which wasn’t done in the case of McClain. 

Smith says the case should have triggered an internal affairs investigation.

“There should be some automatic cases that go in front of internal affairs,” Villaseñor said. “An officer involved shooting, an in-custody death.”

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