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State to Oversee Aurora PD for Racial Bias, Excessive Force

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has called for oversight of the department after an investigation following the death of Elijah McClain found patterns of racial bias, excessive force and other misconduct.

(TNS) — Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has called for state oversight of Aurora's department Wednesday after investigators found police there exhibited a pattern of racial bias, used excessive force and broke a law requiring them to document stops.

The investigation, which stemmed from the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, a Black man, in police custody, also determined the city’s fire department has a pattern of using ketamine in violation of the law.

The attorney general's office wants Aurora to sign off on a consent decree that would mandate changes and ongoing oversight. Weiser's report threatened a court order if negotiations with Aurora don't result in an oversight deal.

“Last summer, we heard loudly and clearly that the people of Colorado expect more from law enforcement,” said Attorney General Phil Weiser in a news conference Wednesday.

“For us, the guiding light is how do we build trust in law enforcement and in government, such that people are treated legally and fairly.”

The report attributes the failures of Aurora police it found largely to “systemic and severe” culture issues. The department’s training does not address its specific needs, it says, and policies provide little detail or practical guidance.

“In short, Aurora Police has failed to create and oversee appropriate expectations for responsible behavior,” the report found.

"The city of Aurora staff and leadership are committed to the systemic change that is already underway in Aurora," City Manager Jim Twombly said in a statement. "We started that work more than a year ago."

Weiser said the report doesn’t address actions of individual officers or make recommendations in response to them.

Police actions show significant racial disparities, especially with respect to Black people, according to the report. The failure to document stops, required by Colorado’s policing accountability law passed last year, known as Senate Bill 217, “allows a vast category of police activity, such as investigative stops, to evade scrutiny,” Weiser said.

Aurora earlier announced intent to hire an independent monitor for safety oversight. Weiser said Wednesday the structure of the monitor’s office will be included in the consent decree negotiations.

The report comes a few weeks after a grand jury indicted three current and former police officers and two paramedics in the August 2019 death of McClain, which drove tensions between residents and police. Officers stopped McClain while he walked home, responding to a report of a person behaving strangely. While he was not suspected of a crime, an investigation found police violently subdued McClain, and paramedics called to the scene injected him with ketamine. McClain went into cardiac arrest and died several days later.

Officers Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard and former officer Jason Rosenblatt, along with Fire Rescue paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper face a count each of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, among other charges.

Online dockets show the defendants have their appearances on bond scheduled for Nov. 1.

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson fired Rosenblatt last year after he received a photo by text message from other officers appearing to mock McClain's death and replied "Ha ha." The four others still employed have been placed on unpaid leave.

"Today is incredibly difficult for not only the Aurora community but this agency," Wilson said in a statement released Wednesday. "We acknowledge there are changes to be made. We will not broad brush this agency or discount the professionalism and integrity that individual officers bring to our community every day. I am proud to say the Aurora Police Department began the implementation of many changes over the last 21 months, while this and other investigations were ongoing."

An investigation into McClain's death released earlier this year found police did not have cause to stop him. Another review of Aurora's policing has suggested an overhaul of the department's policies on use of force.

©Colorado Springs Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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