Aurora police hit with federal lawsuit over response to Elijah McClain rally last month

Aurora community leaders filed a class action lawsuit Thursday against the city’s police department and its interim chief, accusing them of unconstitutional treatment while breaking up a protest and violin vigil for Elijah McClain.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, addresses police response to the June 27 protest, when thousands gathered outside the department’s headquarters to rally for justice for McClain. After hours of peaceful protest and marches, police showed up in riot gear and clashed with protesters.

“Aurora’s deployment of riot police, who indiscriminately unleashed chemical agents, projectiles, and batons on peaceful protesters celebrating Elijah’s life and calling for justice at a violin vigil, is part and parcel of the same brutality, racism, and disregard for the Constitution that caused them to murder Elijah,” attorney Mari Newman said in a statement.

The complaint seeks to prevent Aurora police in the future from using chemical agents; shooting projectiles indiscriminately into crowds; require all law enforcement officers deployed to protests to have their body cameras recording at all times; and allow orders for crowd dispersal only when there is imminent danger to people, not property.

Aurora’s interim police Chief Vanessa Wilson last month defended the department’s response, saying it was necessary to use lines of riot police to clear out the protest because some threw rocks and water bottles at police or tried to fight officers.

Aurora police have come under intense scrutiny in recents weeks after McClain’s death gained renewed attention following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May.

On August 24, police attempted to arrest McClain after being called for a suspicious person and used a carotid hold on the 23-year-old before paramedics injected him with Ketamine, a heavy sedative. He died in the hospital six days later.

City, state and federal investigations into the arrest and death are ongoing.

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