Governor Jared Polis on Wednesday said his office will figure out how the state can be useful regarding the investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old killed by Aurora police last year in a case that has drawn national attention amid a movement to hold law enforcement responsible for their treatment of people of color.
“Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever,” Polis said in a tweet Wednesday afternoon. “A fair and objective process free from real or perceived bias for investigation officer-involved killings is critical.”
The governor said in a second tweet that he is “hearing from many Coloradans who have expressed concerns about the investigation of Elijah McClain’s death. As a result, I have instructed my legal council (sic) to examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps.”
A former prosecutor said Colorado law does not allow state involvement in local cases, despite the governor’s interest in the case.
“The precedent on this is very clear, going back to Gov. Bill Owens’ effort to interfere with and control the JonBenét Ramsey case,” said Stan Garnett, Boulder County’s former district attorney. “The state has no role in these cases.”
Polis last year called for an independent investigation into the fatal shooting of 19-year-old De’Von Bailey by Colorado Springs police. But the governor ultimately did not move to initiate a state-level probe of the killing.
On Wednesday afternoon, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman announced he would move up a planned vote to July 6 for council members to decide on an independent investigator to examine the actions of Aurora police, firefighters and paramedics in the McClain case, according to The Denver Post.
“It is imperative we quickly and urgently move forward with this investigation so we can provide answers to our community,” Coffman said in a news release.
Members of the Aurora City Council’s public safety policy committee previously asked in a letter sent to City Manager Jim Twombly that those recommendations be ready by July 16.
“While we recognize the need to make the right choice, we also feel like time is of the essence,” the letter said, adding, “Trust is already eroded — delaying action will only cause further strain in our community.”
The steps taken to hire the independent investigator already were complicated, with Aurora city leaders canceling the contract earlier this month for one individual after they learned he was a former police officer.
The police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis last month sparked a national movement on police brutality and racial injustice while also renewing attention on dozens of other Black men and women killed by police.
Aurora police stopped McClain on Aug. 24 after a 911 caller had reported him as suspicious. The officers attempted to arrest him when he did not immediately comply with their orders to stop walking. The officers took him to the ground, where one used a carotid hold on him, and a paramedic injected him with ketamine.
McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital, where he died Aug. 30 after he was declared brain dead.
The officers who arrested him were cleared of criminal wrongdoing and internal policy violations.
Protesters gathered in Aurora earlier this month to decry McClain’s death, and another march is planned for Saturday at the Aurora police headquarters.
In the meantime, a Change.org petition demanding justice for McClain and his family neared 2.4 million signatures Wednesday afternoon.