The tragic death of Elijah McClain — a 23-year-old Black massage therapist who passed away in Colorado last August after a confrontation with the Aurora Police Department — has garnered renewed interest, and outrage, throughout the world.
August 24, 2019
On the night of August 24, 2019, a 911 caller reported a “suspicious person” — later identified as Elijah — walking on Billings Street near East Colfax Avenue wearing a ski mask while “flailing his arms at the caller.” The caller also told the dispatcher that they did not believe Elijah was armed, nor did they think Elijah or anyone else was in danger.
Elijah’s family later told Denver’s 9NEWS that Elijah was walking to get an iced tea for his brother. Elijah's sister, Naomi McClain, also told the outlet that he wore an open face ski mask, because "he had anemia and would sometimes get cold."
Per an August 26, 2019, press release from the Aurora Police Department, the officers — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema — “contacted” Elijah, but he allegedly “would not stop walking down the street from the officer.” Elijah allegedly “resisted contact, a struggle ensued and he was taken into custody.”
The press release also stated that “due to the level of physical force applied while restraining the subject and his agitated mental state,” officers requested assistance from the Aurora Fire Rescue and the Falck Ambulance staff.
While cops held Elijah down, paramedics gave him a “standard medication routinely utilized to reduce agitation,” according to the release. The medication was reportedly 500 mg of ketamine. While being transported to the hospital, Elijah went into cardiac arrest.
An overview of the incident released in November 2019 says that during the “struggle,” Roedema claims Elijah tried to grab for Rosenblatt’s holstered gun. Woodyard also allegedly applied a “carotid control hold” around Elijah’s neck.
(In October 2019, Mari Newman, a lawyer representing Elijah’s family, said police “grabbed [Elijah] immediately, hands on, aggressive, and slammed him against a wall.”)
August 30, 2019
On August 30, 2019, nearly a week after the incident, Elijah was pronounced dead after being taken off life support.
Days before, McClain’s cousin Rashiaa Veal told 9News that Elijah was “brain dead.”
According to the Denver Post, the body cameras on Woodyard, Rosenblatt, and Roedema were all allegedly “knocked off of their uniforms during the struggle.” However, audio could still be heard.
The Aurora Police Department eventually released the footage to the public in November 2019, months after Elijah’s death.
Upon his arrest, Elijah can be heard telling the officers:
“I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work. Oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly.”
At one point in the recording, an officer can be heard admitting that Elijah had done nothing illegal prior to his arrest.
At another point, an officer spots another officer’s body camera pointed at him and says, “Move your camera, dude.”
In response to this footage, the McClain family lawyer Newman accused the officers of “[shedding] their body cameras, freeing themselves to create a false narrative that this pacifist vegetarian [McClain] reached for a gun.”
In November 2019, Forensic Pathology Consultant Dr. Stephen Cina, working for the Adams County Coroner’s Office, listed Elijah’s cause of death as “undetermined.”
However, Cina listed a variety of potential factors that could have contributed to Elijah’s passing.
“The manner of death may be accident if it was an idiosyncratic drug reaction,” Cina wrote. “It may be natural if [Elijah] had an undiagnosed mental illness that led to excited delirium, if his intense physical exertion combined with a narrow coronary artery led to an arrhythmia, if he had an asthma attack, or if he aspirated vomit while restrained.”
Cina also wrote that Elijah’s death “may be a homicide if the actions of officers led to his death (e.g. carotid control hold led to stimulation of the carotid sinus resulting in an arrhythmia).”
No Criminal Charges
In November 2019, Adams County District Attorney Dave Young determined that all three officers did not commit any criminal acts, and no charges were filed against them.
Previously, on August 28, 2019, Woodyard, Rosenblatt, and Roedema were put on paid administrative leave following the incident.
On June 10, 2020, Aurora lawmakers wrote a letter to City Manager Jim Twombly formally asking the city to conduct a new, third-party investigation into Elijah’s death.
“We have watched the events over the last several days and it has become clear that public trust has been eroded,” council members Allison Hiltz, Curtis Gardner, and Angela Lawson wrote. “We know that the status quo is no longer acceptable in our criminal justice system. Our community has experienced pain and as leaders it is our responsibility to take the first step in restoring public trust.”
Twombly reportedly responded to the letter, and said the city is already in the process of initiating an independent review of Elijah’s death.
Earlier this month, a Change.org petition was created to demand justice for Elijah’s killing. As of Wednesday afternoon, it has racked up over 2 million signatures.
Additionally, McClain’s mom, Sheneen McClain, created a GoFundMe to cover the costs of Elijah's funeral. As of Wednesday afternoon, the page has raised over $965,000.
Elijah McClain – SAY HIS NAME!
In an October 2019 interview with the Sentinel Colorado, Sheneen revealed Elijah was intellectually gifted at an early age, and was fiercely independent.
“He wanted to change the world,” Sheneen McClain said. “And it’s crazy, because he ended up doing it anyway.”
As a teenager, Elijah taught himself to play guitar and violin. Elijah would also visit animal shelters on his lunch breaks and perform music for the animals.
After earning his G.E.D. from Emily Griffith Technical College in Denver, Elijah worked several jobs, including positions at PetCo and Little Caesars.
Eventually, Elijah became a massage therapist at age 19 and performed his first professional treatment on April Young, the then-manager at a Massage Envy in Englewood.
“He had a child-like spirit,” Young told the outlet. “Elijah McClain was not conditioned to the norms of America… He lived in his own little world. He was never into, like, fitting in. He just was who he was.”
May Elijah rest in peace.