- Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced he was launching an investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was killed in police custody in August 2019.
- The move comes amid intense pressure for McClain’s case to be reopened as his story has spread on social media and gained national attention in recent days.
- Police were called on McClain as he was walking home listening to music and wearing a ski mask, which he wore because he had anemia and was easily made cold. A man driving by told police he thought McClain was “sketchy.”
- Police confronted McClain and placed him in a chokehold before medics arrived and injected with ketamine. He suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital and died a week later after his family removed him from life support.
- Three officers involved in McClains death were placed on administrative leave and eventually cleared by the police department, which found that they had used appropriate levels of force and responded in accordance with their training.
Nearly a year after the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was killed in police custody, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor Thursday to investigate the case following massive public outcry.
On the evening of Aug. 24, 2019, McClain was listening to music while walking home from a local shop in Aurora, Colorado. He wore a ski mask and was listening to music on headphones.
McClain’s family later said he often wore a ski mask because he had anemia and became cold easily. A man driving down the same street saw McClain and called the police and told them to come.
“He has a full-on mask on,” the man said, according to audio of the call uploaded by the Aurora Police Department. “I just turned around and he’s like, putting his hands up.”
“He looks sketchy. He might be a good person or a bad person.”
At least four officers responded to the scene. Body camera footage shows that they got out of their cars and called for McClain to stop walking. It is unclear if he heard them, and after some confused exchanges, he stopped.
Officers are then seen blocking McClain’s path before reaching out to grab him.
“I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking,” McClain said, recoiling from the officers. “You guys started to arrest me and I was stopping my music to listen. Let go of me.”
“Relax or I’m going to have to change this situation,” one officer says. Police later said he had resisted them.
Struggle Ensues Absent Body Camera Footage
From there, a struggle ensues, and the officers place McClain in a chokehold. However, at this point, the body camera footage becomes jumbled. Police said their cameras came off during the scuffle.
In the audio from the cameras, McClain can be heard crying, repeatedly saying “it hurts,” and begging the officers to stop. At one point he says “I can’t breathe.”
While McClain remained in the chokehold, the other officers could be heard talking in the background, largely ignoring him. At one point, one of them told another to move his camera.
Then, one of the police claims McClain tried to reach for another officer’s gun. There are more sounds of struggling. Someone picks up a camera and McClain is seen on his side with his hands behind his back and an officer’s knee in his torso.
McClain tries to roll over to vomit and the police yell at him to stop fighting.
“If you keep messing around, I’m going to bring my dog out here and he’s going to bite you,” one of them says.
McClain vomits and passes out.
Aurora Fire Rescue arrived on the scene later, and a fire medic injected McClain with ketamine to sedate him. The officers told the medic they believed he was on drugs.
“Whatever he’s on, he has incredible strength,” one of them said. McClain’s autopsy later revealed that he only had marijuana in his system, which is legal in Colorado.
McClain suffered a heart attack during the ambulance ride to the hospital. Three days later, he was declared brain dead. He died on Aug. 30 after his family took him off life support.
No Criminal Charges
In early November, the Adams County Coroner’s Office concluded that McClain’s autopsy showed he died from “undetermined causes.”
“The decedent was violently struggling with officers who were attempting to restrain him. Most likely the decedent’s physical exertion contributed to death,” the autopsy report said. “It is unclear if the officers’ actions contributed as well.”
Shortly after that, the district attorney’s office declined to file criminal charges.
Three officers involved in McClain’s death — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema — were placed on administrative leave for around three months. In February, all three were cleared of wrongdoing by the Aurora Police Department.
The department determined that the officers had used an appropriate level of force that was consistent with their training.
Gov. Polis Reopens Case
In recent weeks, McClain’s case has been brought into the public eye as a focal point in the grassroots movement against systemic racism and police violence.
In early June, several protests took place in Colorado calling for his case to be reopened. Shortly after, three members of Aurora’s city council asked the city manager to open an independent investigation.
Over the last week, McClain’s story has been shared widely on social media platforms and garnered national media attention, prompting intensified calls for his death to be investigated. State and local officials said they have received thousands of calls and emails, and a petition circulating online gained over three million signatures.
In a statement Thursday, Polis announced that he had signed an executive order designating Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate the case and decide if the facts supported criminal prosecution.
“I was moved by speaking with Elijah’s mother and her description of her son as a responsible and curious child who became a vegetarian to be healthier, and who could inspire the darkest soul,” he said in the statement.
“Elijah McClain 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.”
In the executive order, Polis noted that it was an incredibly rare move for the state to disregard a district attorney’s decision to not pursue criminal charges, but argued it was necessary as the previous investigations left out relevant details.
“This, however, is the truly exceptional case where widely reported facts are not addressed in any current investigation,” he wrote. “These omissions merit a supplemental evaluation of the case by an independent prosecutor and thus warrant this Executive Order.”
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Denver Post) (Al Jazeera)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.