A judge accepted the terms of a settlement for the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colorado to pay $15 million to the family of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man killed by police in 2019, on Friday.
According to the Associated Press, McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain said after the settlement was announced by the court and the family’s attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai that she was happy to have it finalized, but the work that has gone into fighting for justice for her son just makes her miss him more.
“The money is just the world’s way of saying, ‘We’re sorry,’ but it’s not going to help me heal the hole in my heart,” she said.
The lawsuit alleged how McClain was treated by police, placed in a neckhold and injected with a sedative by paramedics, was effectively torture and represented a pattern among local police of racially biased policing which typically included aggression and violence toward Black citizens.
Due to the fact that an autopsy did not provide a clear cause of death, local prosecutors did not file charges against the three officers present when McClain was stopped. However, in September a grand jury indicted the officers along with two paramedics on manslaughter and other charges after Governor Jared Polis ordered Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an investigation into the incident.
Tuesday, Weiser and Aurora officials announced a set of reforms after an investigation by Weiser’s office uncovered a pattern of racially biased policing, including the use of excessive force. A monitor to oversee whether the reforms are followed and milestones are met over the next five years is still yet to be hired.
For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below:
McClain was a massage therapist who played his violin for cats in a rescue shelter.
His 2019 death and his pleading words to police on body camera footage—”I’m an introvert, and I’m just different”—drew widespread attention after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis set off global protests last year.
“No amount of money can change what happened or erase the pain and heartbreak experienced by the family over his loss,” Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said in a news release Friday. “This tragedy has greatly changed and shaped Aurora.”
Twombly and other city officials called the settlement an important step in restoring community trust, saying McClain’s death has led the city to take a hard look at its policies.
“There is nothing that can rectify the loss of Elijah McClain and the suffering his loved ones have endured,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said in the news release. “I am committed to learning from this tragedy.”
The lawsuit alleged the extreme force officers used against McClain and his struggle to survive it dramatically increased the amount of lactic acid in his system, leading to his death, possibly along with the large dose of the sedative ketamine he was given.
An outside investigation commissioned by the city faulted the police probe into McClain’s arrest for not pressing for answers about how officers treated him. It found there was no evidence justifying officers’ decision to stop McClain, who had been reported as suspicious because he was wearing a ski mask as he walked down the street waving his hands. He had not been accused of breaking any law.
One of the three officers who arrested McClain was fired last year, but not for stopping him. Jason Rosenblatt lost his job for responding “ha ha” to a photo taken by other former officers reenacting the neckhold at a memorial to McClain.
Aurora police have been plagued by other allegations of misconduct against people of color.
Last year, the department came under fire for handcuffing four Black girls who were held face down in a parking lot in a mix-up over a stolen car. Prosecutors said officers committed no crime.
This summer, an officer shown on body camera footage beating a Black man with his gun was charged with assault and resigned. Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who took over the department last year amid the increased attention on McClain’s death, quickly denounced the officer’s actions, calling it a “very despicable act.”