Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced in a statement Thursday that the state’s Attorney General, Phil Weiser, had been appointed special prosecutor in the investigation of Elijah McClain’s death.
Polis added that the appointment was necessary to “foster public trust and confidence in law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” ABC News reported. Elijah McClain, who was 23 years old, died after a deadly encounter with police last year near Aurora, Colorado.
McClain was stopped by police August 24, 2019 after a person called 911 to report him. McClain was wearing a ski mask and had stopped at a corner store, which the 911 caller reported as “sketchy.” Body camera footage also showed McClain ignoring repeated orders by police to stop walking.
A police officer put his hand on McClain and told him to “stop tensing up,” and a struggle quickly broke out between the two. One officer reported that McClain tried to reach for another officer’s gun. McClain was eventually subdued using a carotid control chokehold and placed in handcuffs.
Paramedics with the Aurora Fire Department arrived on scene and reportedly gave McClain an excessive dose of ketamine, which was used as an anesthetic to calm him down, according to The Denver Post. McClain then reportedly suffered from cardiac arrest and died in custody a few days later.
The Adams County coroner ruled in November 2019 that the cause of death was “unknown” and District Attorney Dave Young, who was handling the case, said that there was no evidence of a homicide.
The autopsy also indicated “intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery” as a contributing cause. The family’s attorney, Mari Newman, told ABC News that the amount of ketamine in his system was “certainly not appropriate” and likely contributed to his cardiac arrest.
McClain’s death began circulating throughout social media and received nationwide coverage after the death of George Floyd in May. Both black men died in police custody, fueling major protests across the country over police violence and racism. (RELATED: Suspects In Ahmaud Arbery Killing Indicted On Murder Charges By Grand Jury)
Polis signed a major police reform bill into law last week, which adds rules about when and how law enforcement can use deadly force. The move received bipartisan support from the state’s legislature as well as from prosecutors and attorneys.
The governor mentioned in his statement Thursday that Weiser’s appointment would allow for a broader investigation, adding that McClain’s relatives “deserve a thorough review of the case.”