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Elijah McClain’s Death to Be Investigated Nearly a Year Later. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • 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.

Elijah McClain

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)

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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