October 29, 2021 | NEWS | By Susie Dummit | Photo by Isaac Yee

On Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, the family of Elijah McClain reached a settlement with the city of Aurora, Colo. regarding his death, which followed an encounter with Aurora police in 2019.

McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, was walking home from a convenience store unarmed when he was approached and restrained by police due to a 911 call reporting a “sketchy” man walking down the street. 

Three officers pinned him down in a now-banned “carotid” chokehold maneuver for 18 minutes, 15 of which he was handcuffed. Paramedics arrived soon after, sedating McClain with 500 milligrams of ketamine, more than 1 1/2 times the prescribed dose for his weight. McClain stopped breathing within 5 minutes, suffered cardiac arrest, was declared brain dead in the hospital, and died 6 days later.

Following the resurgence of support for the Black Lives Matter movement after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others in 2020, the bodycam footage of McClain’s encounter quickly spread online. It documented his pleas for mercy.

“I can’t breathe. I can’t. Please stop.” McClain said to the police. “I’m an introvert. I’m different, I’m just different. That’s all. That’s all I was doing. I’m so sorry.”

In response to protests across Colorado and a viral online petition, Gov. Jared Polis ordered a reexamination of the case in 2020. McClain’s parents, Sheneen McClain and Lawayne Mosley, filed a 106-page federal lawsuit on Aug. 11, 2020. Their case named several defendants including the city of Aurora, 12 police officers, two Fire Department paramedics and the department’s medical director. 

On Sept. 1, 2021, a grand jury indicted three police officers and two paramedics involved in McClain’s death on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. 

“I’m still praying for them to be in prison. My son’s murderers and their accomplices all need to be in prison for what they did to him,” Ms. McClain said in an interview with ABC News. “They had no right to stop him. They had no right to handcuff him, brutalize and terrorize him, or inject him with ketamine.”

The settlement was discussed earlier this month in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. A court filing says that Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter held a hearing on Oct. 8 to discuss the logistics of how the lawsuit would be resolved.

Ryan Luby, deputy director of communications for the city of Aurora, confirmed in a statement from Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, that the City of Aurora and the family reached an agreement on the settlement. 

“City leaders are prepared to sign the agreement as soon as the family members complete a separate but related allocation process to which the city is not a party,” Luby’s statement said. “Until those issues are resolved and the agreement is in its final form, the parties cannot disclose the settlement terms.”

Luby also disclosed that no monetary amount was discussed at a recent telephonic court hearing regarding the case.

Iris Halpern, a lawyer representing Ms. McClain said in a statement that the court would determine how to allocate the funds between “Ms. McClain, the parent who raised Elijah McClain by herself, and Lawayne Mosley, the absent biological father.”

Lawyers of the family also confirmed that the settlement has brought some relief. Halpern said in a telephone interview with the New York Times on Tuesday that McClain’s mother “feels that at least some justice has been done” after the settlement, but it was not as important to her as the criminal case.

Mari Newman, an attorney representing McClain’s father, said in a statement “Nothing will bring back his son Elijah, whom he loved dearly, but he is hopeful that this settlement with Aurora, and the criminal charges against the officers and medics who killed Elijah, will allow his family and the community to begin to heal.” 

A Colorado attorney general also released a 118-page report last month on a 14-month long investigation that showed the Aurora Police Department had a pattern of “racially biased policing.” The report also found Aurora police arrested people of color “1.3 times more than whites based on population percentage alone.”

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