By Steve Smith
Friday, June 26, 2020 at 10:34 am
Recent national uproar around Elijah McClain’s death last year prompted responses from the district attorney in the 17th Judicial District and the two challengers vying for his seat.
McClain died in Aurora police custody in August. Officers were answering a call about a suspicious person. When McClain didn't comply with officers' commands, they arrested him, and paramedics injected ketamine into McClain. McClain was declared brain dead three days later.
Gov. Jared Polis appointed the state's attorney general, Phil Weiser, as special prosecutor June 25, to determine what, if any criminal charges, could be filed.
DA Dave Young did not file criminal charges against the officers. But in a statement, he emphasized he didn't “clear the officers … of any wrongdoing.” Young said his review of the case was to determine if there was sufficient evidence to prove a violation of law.
“Elijah McClain's death was tragic and unnecessary,” Young's comments read. “The forensic evidence revealed the cause of death was undetermined. Specifically, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy stated that he was unable to conclude that the actions of any law enforcement officer caused Mr. McClain's death.”
Brian Mason, one of the candidates for Young’s job, called McClain “a young man with a bright future” who “did not deserve to die.” He said, “The outrage over his death is understandable and justified” and promised, if elected, to review all cases where someone has died during a police encounter.
“Such cases must be investigated thoroughly, independently and with integrity,” Mason continued. “We must be transparent about how we conduct these investigations and, when appropriate, utilize the independent body of the grand jury to review them. This will be a top priority of mine if elected district attorney.”
The other challenger, Tim McCormack, was working as a criminal prosecutor in Jefferson County when this incident happened. He said collaboration between community members, advocates, leaders, law enforcement, lawmakers and the DA’s office is important to establishing trust.
“As your district attorney, I am bound to objectively evaluate the law and facts and make an impartial decision,” he said. “Any decision-making will be guided by the principles of fully and fairly evaluating all evidence and not persuaded by bias, prejudice, or undue influence. This includes decisions regarding members of the law enforcement community accused of misconduct as well as anyone who is accused of a crime who comes through the criminal justice system.”
Young said although he may not agree with the actions of the officers involved, the evidence didn't demonstrate that the force used was not justified.
“Ultimately, while I may share the vast public opinion that Elijah McClain's death could have been avoided, it is not my role to file criminal charges based on opinion, but rather, on the evidence revealed from the investigation and applicable Colorado law,” the DA said.
“The national conversation following the murder of George Floyd is critically important in addressing how our criminal justice system treats people of color,” Mason said. “We must do better. I'm committed to engaging in this conversation, to listening, to learning and to finding ways to address injustices in the criminal justice system.”
McCormack said he was aware of other incidents that happened within the purview of the DA’s office. He said he’s confident he can improve the community’s trust with that office.
“There will be no place in my administration for any individual in the office who contributes to or has contributed to betraying the trust of our communities through their lack of integrity or an unethical decision-making process,” McCormack said. “Everyone deserves fairness and justice.”
The DA’s office set up a web page for the McClain case and the content of Young’s letter. The public can also make comments at http://adamsbroomfieldda.org/?page_id=4393