Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Multiple police officers in Aurora, Colorado reportedly took photos “re-enacting” a chokehold placed on 23-year-old Black man Elijah McClain, who died several days being detained by the police in that city last year.
Aurora interim police chief Vanessa Wilson said in a statement on Monday night that she found out about the alleged incident last Thursday and immediately ordered an investigation, which was completed on Monday.
“This investigation will be publicly released in its entirety promptly upon its conclusion,” Wilson said. “This will include reports, photographic evidence obtained, officer’s names, and my final determination which can rise to the level of termination.”
Wilson has placed “all involved officers” on administrative leave.
The alleged existence of the photographs “re-enacting” the events of McClain’s arrest was first reported by CBS 4 in Denver. Three cops are under investigation, according to CBS 4.
The officers are allegedly “depicted in photographs near the site where Elijah McClain died,” which were reported to Aurora’s internal affairs unit by another police officer, according to Wilson. An Aurora police spokesperson declined to describe the photos to the Washington Post.
McClain was stopped by police on August 24, 2019, after they received reports of a man “wearing a ski mask and waving his arms at the caller,” according to a report from the Aurora Police Department released two days after the incident. The caller reportedly stressed that McClain was non-threatening, and McClain’s family has said he wore a ski mask because he was anemic.
But after McClain, who had committed no crime, “would not stop walking down the street from the police officer,” he was restrained in a carotid hold and held down by three officers, during which time he vomited multiple times and apologized.
Police called for paramedics, who injected McClain with ketamine, and he went into cardiac arrest multiple times on his way to the hospital, where he was declared brain dead on August 27 and taken off life support on August 30. Local prosecutors later declined to charge the officers—Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema—with any wrongdoing.
In the midst of the national uprising and protests against police brutality, McClain’s case has come back into the spotlight. Colorado passed a sweeping police reform law earlier this month which banned the use of chokeholds, and the city of Aurora recently banned police officers from using carotid holds. And, after more than 2.3 million people signed a petition calling for a “more in-depth investigation” and for the cops involved in McClain’s death to be taken off duty, Gov. Jared Polis announced last week that he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate McClain’s death.
Woodyard, Roedema, and Rosenblatt have since been placed on “non-enforcement duties,” according to local reports. As of Tuesday, the Change.org petition was nearing 4 million signatures.
Cover: Demonstrators carry placards as they walk down Sable Boulevard during a rally and march over the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Aurora, Colo. McClain died in late August 2019 after he was stopped while walking to his apartment by three Aurora Police Department officers. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)