Colorado’s governor Thursday ordered a special investigation into the death of a young black man put in a police chokehold, as a celebrity-backed online petition calling for justice in the case passed three million signatures.
The death in the western United States occurred months before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, but nationwide anger sparked by Floyd’s case has refocused attention on police brutality against minorities, especially black Americans.
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Elijah McClain, 23, died last August in Aurora, near Denver, three days after he was put in a chokehold by police, injected with ketamine to sedate him and suffered cardiac arrest.
Police had responded to a call about a “suspicious” black male “acting weird” in the street and wearing a ski mask, the district attorney’s report said. One officer said McClain, who was unarmed, had reached for another officer’s gun.
Governor Jared Polis appointed Colorado’s attorney-general to probe the case, vowing on Twitter that “if the facts support prosecution,” the state will “criminally prosecute any individuals whose actions caused the death of Elijah McClain.”
In a statement Thursday, Polis said he had been “moved” after speaking with the victim’s mother Sheneen.
McClain’s family told media he had been out buying iced tea, and often wore the mask to stay warm because he suffered from anemia.
“They murdered him. They are bullies with badges,” Sheneen McClain told CBS.
No charges have been filed against the officers, who remain on duty.
Dave Young, the prosecutor who found no criminal wrongdoing, said in a statement Thursday that he “may share the vast public opinion that Elijah McClain’s death could have been avoided,” but it could not be proved the officers’ actions had caused McClain’s death.
TV host Ellen DeGeneres is among celebrities to have backed the probe, tweeting Wednesday: “Read what happened to #ElijahMcClain, and ask yourself what you would do if it happened to someone you knew. #JusticeForElijahMcClain.”
– ‘I can’t breathe’ –
Interest in McClain’s case, and others involving police killings of minorities, has surged following massive nationwide protests over the death of Floyd, an unarmed African American who suffocated with an officer’s knee on his neck on May 25.
In nearby Arizona, a police chief this week offered to resign over the case of a young Latino man who died in custody.
A police body camera video released Wednesday showed Carlos Ingram Lopez, 27, saying “I can’t breathe” and pleading for water as he was arrested at his grandmother’s house in Tucson in April.
Police responding to a 911 call regarding a “public nuisance” placed Lopez face-down in handcuffs, and minutes later he passed out and died from a heart attack. The three officers resigned last week.
Chief Chris Magnus said it was “irresponsible and unfair” to conclude Lopez was “murdered by the police,” and an autopsy which did not determine a cause of death found Lopez had cocaine in his system and an enlarged heart.
But Magnus admitted the officers had breached department policy, and offered his own resignation.
While the city manager will ultimately decide, Mayor Regina Romero said in a statement to AFP she does “not believe the Chief should resign.”
The police shooting death of 18-year-old Latino Andres Guardado earlier this month has also triggered protests in California, among others.