“All involved officers were immediately placed on administrative leave with pay in non-enforcement capacities,” Wilson said.
It remains unclear when the photos were taken or what the unidentified officers were doing near the memorial for McClain, whose death via chokehold last year has been at the center of protests throughout Colorado as part of nationwide demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality. The increased spotlight on the case has resulted in Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) appointing a special prosecutor to reopen the investigation of McClain’s death. On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced that it would be reviewing McClain’s case to see whether a civil rights probe was necessary.
Lt. Chris Amsler, a spokesman with the Aurora Police Department, declined to describe the content of the photographs in question to The Washington Post early Tuesday.
“Because we’re still in the middle of an active investigation, we’re not commenting on it at this time,” he told The Post.
Late Monday, CBS Denver reported that the photos show officers allegedly reenacting the chokehold used on McClain.
Amsler said police are investigating whether the photos of the officers near the site of McClain’s death violate any department policies and whether a recommendation for any punishment should be handed out.
“This investigation will be publicly released in its entirety promptly upon its conclusion,” Wilson said in her statement, not specifying when it would be completed. “This will include reports, photographic evidence obtained, officer’s names, and my final determination which can rise to the level of termination.”
On Aug. 24, 2019, McClain, whom someone reported to 911 as suspicious, was tackled by police. He may have been listening to music at the time and may not have initially heard them. After handcuffing him, police put McClain, who was unarmed, in a carotid hold, a restraint that restricts blood to the brain to render a person unconscious, and paramedics administered ketamine, a strong sedative. McClain was heard pleading to police in body-camera footage of the incident, “I just can’t breathe correctly.” He went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died days later.
The Aurora Police Department later found the three officers connected to McClain’s death had acted within acceptable policy and training, and the district attorney overseeing the case declined to prosecute them. Last week, the police department announced that it had removed Officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema from patrol duty, which authorities said was “done in an effort to protect those officers,” according to NBC News.
News of Aurora police officers being placed on administrative leave over photos taken near where McClain died comes as the city, less than 10 miles east of Denver, attempts to address the use of force during a recent violin vigil. Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman (R) has called for a special city council meeting on Tuesday to discuss the police department’s handling of a Saturday protest over McClain’s death, where law enforcement wore riot gear and used pepper spray amid a peaceful vigil.
“People congregated to pay tribute to [McClain], to call for accountability for his death, and to play their violins in his honor,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said on his Monday show. “And then Aurora police basically re-created the dynamic of McClain’s death.”
In a news release Monday, Coffman said it was essential for the city council to hear the reasoning behind the tactics police used during the protests.
“The tragic death of Elijah McClain brought out many peaceful people over the weekend who want their voices heard, and unfortunately there were disruptions that overshadowed the broader message,” Coffman said. “I look forward to working with [the] City Council to understand more and make sure we are upfront and transparent with our residents.”
On Monday, similar vigils were held across the United States. In a nod to the demonstration in Aurora, musicians from New York to Los Angeles played “Amazing Grace,” this time without police intervention.