Jarring new video shows riot cops storming a peaceful protest in honor of slain 23-year-old Elijah McClain
The police department in Aurora, Colorado is once again under scrutiny for the use of excessive force. What started as a poignant homage to 23-year-old Elijah McClain on Saturday devolved into chaos as police descended on the crowd in full riot gear. A massage therapist known for playing violin to soothe shelter animals, McClain died last year after being detained and placed in a carotid hold by Aurora PD.
Now, nearly a year after his death, Aurora Police are once again being questioned over their tactics. Mark Sallinger, a reporter with 9News, captured the upsetting scene. “As police in riot gear were spraying protestors with pepper spray and using batons to push them back at the #ElijahMcClain protest in Aurora today, this man began to play the violin,” Sallinger tweeted. “One of the most surreal scenes I’ve ever seen. Music is powerful.”
In the footage, an unidentified violinist strikes up “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range as cops in riot gear push peaceful demonstrators back. Photos of the clash show the cops using pepper spray and smoke bombs, both of which the department has since confirmed.
Police officials say the chemical weapons were deployed in response to protestors throwing water bottles at the officers and arming themselves with sticks and rocks. According to Sentinel Colorado, Aurora police also deployed four rounds of rubber bullets against the crowd (although that claim remains unsubstantiated at this point).
Sallinger speculated that police were provoked when protestors “moved the fence barrier blocking Aurora PD headquarters.” At that point, the department says, “smoke was used to try and encourage people to move to the safe area.” Shortly after, an officer on loudspeaker declared the protest to be an “unlawful assembly.”
McClain was walking home from a local convenience store in Aurora, Colorado, on the night of August 24, 2019, when he was confronted by police. Reportedly responding to a call about a man who “looked sketchy,” Aurora PD placed McClain in a now-banned carotid hold. Fifteen minutes in, he was given a powerful dose of the sedative ketamine.
Video shows his body was limp when placed on a gurney and loaded into an ambulance. He survived two heart attacks en route to a nearby hospital, was pronounced brain dead three days later, and died on August 30.
McClain was never suspected of or implicated in any crime in connection to the incident. The three police officers involved claim he reached for one of their holstered handguns (while being pinned down with disturbingly excessive physical force).
Video footage is limited, as the officers say all three of their body cams fell off at some point in the struggle. The officers — identified as Aurora PD’s Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema — were placed on administrative leave but have all since been reinstated.
However, facing the renewed uproar over the injustice of McClain’s death, Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado re-opened the case. To that end, Polis appointed the state’s attorney general, Phil Weister, to re-examine the details surrounding McClain’s death. He also gave Weiser the authority to file charges, depending on what the re-examination reveals. “Elijah McClain should be alive today,” he said in a statement, “and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern.”
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