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Police Officers And Paramedics Have Been Charged In The 2019 Death Of Elijah McClain

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We begin this half hour in Aurora, Colo., where three police officers and two paramedics have been charged in the death of Elijah McClain. McClain was a young Black man. He died in 2019 while in police custody. He'd been stopped by police and put in a chokehold while walking home. McClain's treatment during the arrest sparked outrage in the community. It sparked calls for police reform. Colorado Public Radio's Allison Sherry has been following this case and is here now. Hi, Allison.

ALLISON SHERRY, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: So it was a 32-count indictment that the grand jury handed up today. What all is in there?

SHERRY: Yeah, it's - so it's 32 counts collectively. That's charges each for the three officers who are involved and the two paramedics who responded. All face manslaughter charges. All face criminally negligent homicide. Both of those are felonies. And they all face assault charges.

KELLY: And I mentioned that McClain was walking home when police stopped him. Give us some more detail about the circumstances surrounding his arrest and then his death.

SHERRY: Yeah, police received a call that someone was acting suspicious. They approached McClain, as you mentioned, as he was walking home. And according to the indictment released today, which is really quite damning, the officers used way too much force from the start. They put him in two carotid chokeholds. They didn't pay attention to him when he was saying he couldn't breathe. And then paramedics arrived. They didn't check on whether he was OK. They didn't talk to him, and they administered ketamine at a dose way bigger than he should have received according to his body weight. And I think what outraged people throughout all of this, even, you know, people who haven't read yet this indictment, is that McClain was actually never suspected of committing any crime.

KELLY: And that outrage - I mean, I remember there were immediate calls for an investigation. It has taken two years for these charges to be filed. What has been the reaction from the community and from his family?

SHERRY: Yeah, I mean, the community widespread is praising this. They're happy that this finally has happened after two years. There was a little bit of a delay in the grand jury because of COVID and the fact that it wasn't meeting last year. But, you know, the big outrage of all of this kind of exploded last summer with the nation's reckoning with police violence. And that's when these state and federal investigations into his death were launched. I talked to his mother today, Sheneen McClain, and this is what she had to say.

SHENEEN MCCLAIN: I'm shocked at the amount of counts, honestly. And I'm happy for my son's justice. I'm happy that Elijah is getting his justice.

SHERRY: You know, she has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Aurora, and that is making progress towards completion as well.

KELLY: Now, we mentioned his case prompted calls for police reforms, which happened in Colorado. The state passed sweeping police reforms last year. Did that play a role in the indictment announced today?

SHERRY: Yeah, the police reform legislation last year was largely inspired by McClain's death, and that also includes a ban on chokeholds. And I don't know if that piece of legislation actually affected the indictment, but I do think the summer of protest, the public pressure mounted on officials, including the governor, pushed the call for the statewide grand jury. You know, there was a local investigation into this case two years ago, and the officers were completely exonerated and they all went back to work. And it's not very often that a separate state investigation is launched after a local one and there's such a different result.

KELLY: That is Colorado Public Radio's Allison Sherry bringing us news of three police officers and two paramedics charged in the death in 2019 of Elijah McClain. Thank you, Allison.

SHERRY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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