Monday, 21 Sep 2020

Could take weeks for info on officers who posed at scene of Elijah McClain arrest

It could take weeks for the Aurora Police Department to release its investigation into officers who posed for photos near the spot where the same department violently arrested Elijah McClain last year, leading to his death.

Interim police Chief Vanessa Wilson promised Monday night that she would release the entire investigation upon its conclusion. The investigation was completed Monday night, but the department is waiting until the entire disciplinary process is finished before releasing more information.

If any of the officers involved decide to appeal the decision, it could takes weeks or months before police share the information with the public.

“Nothing is final yet, and that’s why we haven’t released anything,” Detective Faith Goodrich, an Aurora police spokeswoman, said.

Wilson met Tuesday morning with the department’s internal Conduct Review Board, which recommends what discipline should be taken. Goodrich would not say what discipline was recommended or whether Wilson had made a final decision. After the officers are advised of the discipline, they have time to choose whether to accept or appeal it.

The earliest the information would likely be released is later this week, Goodrich said. She did not know what information, if any, the department would release should the officers appeal the discipline. In a previous case, the department withheld all information except the disciplinary decision and the officer’s name pending the appeals process.

The department opened an investigation Thursday into the photos, which have been reported by CBS4 to show officers pretending to use carotid chokeholds on each other. Aurora police used the same chokehold on 23-year-old McClain while detaining him on Aug. 24 before a paramedic injected him with the heavy sedative ketamine. McClain, accused of no crime, died in a local hospital several days later after being declared brain dead.

Goodrich said the photos were reported by another Aurora police officer.

McClain’s death has garnered international attention over the past two weeks following weeks of protests around the world against police brutality and the killings of Black people by law enforcement. Hundreds gathered Saturday in Aurora to protest McClain’s death and honor his life, though many of the largely peaceful protesters were pushed off of the municipal center lawn by Aurora police.

“It’s not that we don’t want to release that information but if it interferes with the civil service appeals the decision could be overturned,” Goodrich said.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said Tuesday he was “deeply concerned” over the fact of the investigation but that he won’t comment until the internal review is complete.

The investigation is finished, though police say they won’t release the photos or other information about the case because doing so could jeopardize the appeals process.

The public still does not know what caused Wilson to fire Officer Levi Huffine in February. The department said Huffine was guilty of “severe misconduct” but refused to say what he did, where the incident occurred or when it happened, citing an ongoing appeal by Huffine.

Huffine’s appeal is scheduled for late September — more than seven months after he was fired.

The department’s practice of withholding records until the appeals process is complete differs from that used by the Denver Police Department. The Denver Department of Public Safety regularly releases information about cases once a disciplinary decision has been made, regardless of whether the officer appeals that decision.

A state law passed in 2019 aimed at increasing transparency into police discipline does not require agencies to release internal affairs documents until after the appeals process is complete.

Aurora police leadership are scheduled to appear before the City Council at a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to explain their response to the protests Saturday, though the discussion will now likely include the internal affairs case as well.

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