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Elijah McClain was a massage therapist who ‘wanted to heal’ others, his mother says

Andrew Cuomo

Before his name was added to a growing list of Black people killed at the hands of police, Elijah McClain “was a happy young man” who was “always energetic,” his mother says.

McClain, 23, was a massage therapist, according to Sheneen McClain. Her son was the type who “wanted to heal” others, she told CNN affiliate KCNC-TV.

“He not only healed others, he healed himself,” Sheneen McClain said. “He was able to accept love and give love in varying forms.”

Elijah McClain also played the violin and guitar and was an animal lover. He loved animals so much, he’d spend his lunch hour playing violin for animals at a local shelter, according to McClain family attorney Mari Newman.

“He was part of a very close family. His family misses him unbearably,” Newman said.

Now his face appears on murals around Aurora, a suburb of Denver. It was there that Elijah McClain died last August after a confrontation with Aurora police officers.

A 911 caller had described a “suspicious person,” according to a police overview of the incident. The confrontation led to one officer placing McClain in a carotid hold, or chokehold. McClain suffered a heart attack while in the ambulance and was declared brain dead three days later.

After almost a year of family members and community activists calling for justice, Gov. Jared Polis announced last week his administration would reexamine the case. The officers involved have also been reassigned to “nonenforcement” duties, or administrative tasks such as paperwork.

“It should not have escalated from a suspicious call to my son dying,” Lawayne Mosley, McClain’s father, told CNN affiliate KMGH-TV. “I should be getting grandbabies from him.”

Mother says she doesn’t know who to trust anymore

McClain was walking home after purchasing an iced tea from a convenience store August 24, 2019, KMGH reported.

He was wearing a ski mask at the time, his family told the affiliate, because he was “anemic and got cold easily.”

After receiving the “suspicious person” call, three White officers stopped McClain.

McClain resisted officer contact, the police report says, and a struggle ensued. On one of the officers’ body cameras, McClain is heard saying, “I’m an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”

Body camera video shows McClain telling officers that he was trying to stop his music to listen to them, then they begin to arrest him. One officer is heard telling another, “He just grabbed your gun, dude.”

The video shows an officer wrestle McClain to the ground.

At one point during the struggle, an officer is heard telling McClain, “If you keep messing around, I’m going to bring my dog out and he’s going to dog bite you.”

An officer placed McClain in a chokehold and he briefly lost consciousness, according to an overview of the incident provided by police. They released the hold, the report says, and he began struggling again. When paramedics arrived at the scene they administered ketamine to sedate McClain, the report said. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

An autopsy did not determine a cause of death but listed intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery as contributing factors, according to the police overview. The coroner found the amount of ketamine in his system to be a therapeutic amount.

There was no official determination as to how McClain died, and Adams County District Attorney Dave Young told CNN last week that was a major factor in not prosecuting the case.

“In my business, I can’t take a case to court that we don’t know the answers to those questions,” Young told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday. “I cannot take a case to the jury where I don’t know what the cause of death is on a homicide case.”

Attorney General Phil Weiser will now investigate McClain’s death at the governor’s order. The city of Aurora is planning a separate investigation into the actions of first responders in the case.

Sheneen McClain told KMGH in September she loved Aurora and respects everybody doing their job. She said she even had trust in the police, until the night her son died.

Now, she said, “I don’t know who to trust anymore.”

Sheneen McClain wanted to share photos of her son in the hospital in the aftermath of his confrontation with police because, Newman said, people ought to look the horrors of racism right in the eye.

“She shares them with intention,” Newman said.

Protests erupt over McClain’s death

Activists and family members have been calling for justice in McClain’s death. His case gained renewed attention with the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police.

More than 2 million people signed a petition urging officials to conduct a new investigation into McClain’s death, which led to the governor’s call to reexamine the case.

“Last year, we stood on the municipal center steps demanding an investigation and what did we hear then? Crickets,” Newman, the McClain family attorney, told CNN’s Don Lemon on Thursday. “Why did it take almost a year, international media attention, millions of people signing a petition for a responsible adult to finally step up and do what should have happened right from the outset?”

Newman said it is ridiculous that the autopsy report did not have a cause of death.

“The autopsy was attended by two members of the Aurora police department, two members of the district attorney’s office, and it bends over backwards to say everything except for the truth,” Newman told Lemon.

And Newman attributed lack of evidence to the officers dislodging their body cameras, which she believed to be intentional. All three came off when the officers tackled McClain, and at three different times in the video, people were told to remove or turn off the cameras, she said.

Protests have raged in the aftermath of McClain’s death. Most recently, demonstrators caused a shutdown of Interstate 225 on Saturday.

Interim Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said the community was reeling from McClain’s death, who she said “was not only a beloved son, brother and friend, but also a valued member of our community.”

“I have heard from our community, and I am listening today,” Wilson wrote. “Their voices and concerns are not falling on deaf ears. I am devoted to meaningful reform, just as every good officer out here today is.”

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