DENVER (Reuters) – Federal law enforcement authorities said on Tuesday a civil rights investigation is underway into the death in 2019 of an unarmed Black man in Colorado after police applied a chokehold to him and he was sedated by paramedics.
The federal probe was launched last year into the death of Elijah McClain, 23, who went into cardiac arrest and died days after the encounter in the Denver suburb of Aurora, according to a joint statement from the Justice Department’s civil rights division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for Colorado.
The agencies said releasing the existence of an ongoing investigation is done only when it is in “the best interest of the public and public safety.”
“Recent attention on the death of Elijah McClain warrants such disclosure,” the agencies said.
An Aurora police representative said they would have no comment while the federal investigation was ongoing.
McClain was approached by three officers from the Aurora, Colorado police department on Aug. 24, 2019 on a report of a suspicious man walking along a street in the suburb.
Police subdued him, even though he was not suspected of committing a crime, and applied a carotid neck hold on him as McClain said repeatedly that he could not breathe, according to audio recordings released by police.
Paramedics then injected him with ketamine. McClain lapsed into a coma and died days later.
A local district attorney declined to file charges against police or the paramedics, citing an inconclusive autopsy.
Governor Jared Polis last week appointed a special prosecutor to review the case, and an internal affairs investigation has been launched into three officers who took photographs of themselves at the scene.
An attorney for the McClain family, Mari Newman, said a civil rights investigation “was long overdue.”
Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Lincoln Feast
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