A police chief spent over four hours defending her officers’ tactics to leaders in a Denver suburb after police used pepper spray and batons on protesters during a vigil for Elijah McClain, a black man who died after police put him in a chokehold last year.
Interim Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said the officers were responding to a group of agitators among the largely peaceful crowd on Saturday.
“We were attacked with rocks, and we had to defend our officers,” she said at an online Aurora City Council meeting on Tuesday night. “My officers aren’t sacrificial lambs.”
Wilson said they were concerned agitators would try to break in to police headquarters and destroy evidence from case files inside.
Three white officers stopped McClain as he walked down the street last August after a 911 call reported him as suspicious.
Police placed him in a chokehold, and paramedics administered 500 milligrams of sedative to calm him down. The 23-year-old suffered cardiac arrest, was declared brain dead and later taken off life support.
The City Council meeting took place after Colorado’s U.S. attorney, the Denver division of the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced they are investigating McClain’s death for potential federal civil rights violations.
The officers who stopped McClain were cleared by prosecutors and returned to the force, but the governor has ordered the state attorney general to reopen the case.
A separate internal police investigation is underway into photos of Aurora officers taken near the place where McClain died. Officials have not released the photos or described what they depict.
Multiple police officers have been placed on paid leave during the investigation.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.