The city of Aurora, Colo., will pay $15 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of Elijah McClain, an unarmed 23-year-old Black man who died after law enforcement officers put him in a chokehold while he was on his way home in 2019.
Aurora officials said the settlement was the largest ever paid by the municipal government, and a lawyer for McClain's father told the Associated Press that it was the biggest for a civil rights case in Colorado's history. The agreement to drop the civil suit filed against the city last year was approved after a mediation hearing at a federal court.
"There is nothing that can rectify the loss of Elijah McClain and the suffering his loved ones have endured," said Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson. "Significant changes have already occurred and will continue to be implemented." A lawyer representing McClain's mother did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The $15 million figure is more than double the $6.5 million that Aurora paid to settle officer-involved lawsuits between 2010 and 2017.
McClain's death received belated national attention after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man in Minnesota who was killed by a White police officer in May 2020. After Floyd's death, which sparked a national racial reckoning, Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis ordered an investigation into McClain's death. The state attorney general has also looked into whether Aurora police violated constitutional rights in the course of their operations.
The findings of Colorado Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser were damning. Aurora police engaged in repeated abuses against minorities, especially Black people, treated people of color differently from their White counterparts, repeatedly used excessive force and failed to properly document interactions with the public, according to the investigation.
Aurora's police department cooperated with the state investigation, Weiser told reporters at the time. A separate city probe, released in February, found that Aurora officers had no legally justified reason to stop, frisk or use multiple chokeholds on McClain.
Since the investigations, the city has vowed to reform its law enforcement department.
Under policies called the "New Way," the city will require police employees to undergo unconscious bias and "cultural competency" training. It also pledged to host meetings between police and city residents, who will speak about past interactions with Aurora police, as part of law enforcement training.
The plan aims to improve public trust in law enforcement, which has been lacking because of a tradition of police impunity and changing demographics. White residents are a majority of Aurora's population of 386,000, but the proportion of every other racial category has grown since 2000.
In August 2019, McClain was stopped while going home from a convenience store. He was carrying a grocery bag of Arizona Iced Tea, wearing headphones and a black ski mask. Police confronted him after receiving a report from a passerby about a "sketchy" individual.
Law enforcement officials who arrived at the scene pushed McClain against a wall of a nearby apartment building before putting him in a neck hold that caused him to go unconscious, according to court documents.
Body-camera footage showed McClain pleading with police officers: "I can't breathe, please stop. I was just going home." He was less than 100 feet away from his front door.
As McClain veered in and out of consciousness, officers called in paramedics who administered about 50% more ketamine, a sedative, than city protocol recommended for a person of his size. McClain was later declared brain dead and removed from life support.
Two years after McClain's death, the three police officers and two paramedics were indicted by a grand jury on 32 counts, including manslaughter.