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'Justice for Elijah' petition receives more than 2 million signatures as disturbing details emerge in young black man's police-involved death



Image source: YouTube screenshot

A petition calling for justice in the Elijah McClain case has received more than 2 million signatures in just a few weeks.

McClain, a 23-year-old black man, died in August 2019 after police officers detained him.

What are the details of McClain's death?

McClain was on foot in Aurora, Colorado, on Aug. 24 when 911 dispatchers received a phone call about a young man acting in a strange manner.

Police responded to the scene and discovered McClain walking while wearing a ski mask. He had visited a convenience store to pick up an iced tea for his brother and was on his way home when authorities stopped him. People who knew McClain said he often wore the mask due to being excessively cold from anemia.

According to the incident review, Officer Nathan Woodyard approached McClain for questioning. McClain reportedly "appeared to ignore" Woodyard's requests and continued walking. McClain's family say he was wearing headphones or earbuds at the time and could not hear the officer.

A portion of the report described the interaction between the 23-year-old and the police officer.

"As Woodyard approached Mr. McClain on foot, again telling him to stop, Mr. McClain said, 'I have a right to go where I am going,'" the report read. "Officer Woodyard responded, 'I have a right to stop you because you're being suspicious."

A second officer — Jason Rosenblatt — arrived on the scene, and Woodyard and Rosenblatt each grabbed one of McClain's arms during the incident.

CBS News reported that "Woodyard later told a detective that he thought McClain might have weapons on him, but that he would not allow himself to be searched."

No weapons were ever discovered, according to reports.

A report from the district attorney's office, audio from bodycam footage of the incident finds McClain pleading with the officers to be released.

The report said, "An officer can be heard on a body-worn camera saying, 'Stop tensing up, dude, stop tensing up.' McClain then said, 'Let me go, no, let me go, I am an introvert, please respect my boundaries that I am speaking.'"

After grabbing McClain by the arms, the two officers reportedly moved him onto a nearby patch of grass where a third officer — later identified as Officer Randy Roedema — says McClain attempted to reach for one of the officer's service weapons.

Woodyard then reportedly placed McClain in a chokehold to restrain him. McClain lost consciousness, and when EMTs arrived on the scene, a medic injected McClain with 500 milligrams of ketamine as a sedative.

Medics placed McClain into "soft restraints" and loaded him into an ambulance for transport. The medic who administered the ketamine injection, however, noticed that McClain was no longer breathing. At this point, McClain did not have a pulse.

First responders transported McClain to a nearby hospital, where he remained unconscious for three days. On the third day, doctors declared him brain dead.

Reports say that the county coroner declared McClain's cause of death to be "undetermined."

Authorities cleared involved officers of any wrongdoing.

What happened then?

McClain's mother, Sheneen McClain, released a statement two months after her son's untimely death, insisting that her son was killed because of hatred.

"Treating humans like gutter because you yourself have unsolved issues in your being shows in guilt or hate," she wrote on a GoFundMe page. "We have done this to ourselves by not standing up for each other on all levels of understanding and community values."

The GoFundMe page has received more than $1.3 million at the time of this reporting, and donations continues to pour in.

The McClain family has called for an independent investigation into their loved one's death, as well as "prosecution for the murder" of the 23-year-old.

KCNC-TV reported that the city launched an external investigation into McClain's death on June 9, but shut it down after discovering that the attorney leading the investigation was a former police officer himself — and who specialized in defending police from claims of liability.

CBS News reported that Aurora Senior Public Information Officer Michael Bryant promised that the city is compiling a panel of experts from across the United States to perform the review.

Attorney Mari Newman — the McClain family lawyer — said that the rising visibility of the case is the only thing that prompted Aurora to hire an "independent investigator."

"[M]edia quickly revealed [he] was actually a former police officer turned lawyer, whose legal practice is dedicated to defending police who use excessive force," Newman said. "Clearly, Aurora has no intention of taking responsibility for murdering an innocent young man. Its entire effort is to defend its brutality at all costs, and to lie to the public it is supposed to serve."

Aurora still working to form new independent review of Elijah McClain's death

What is the status on the petition?

The petition calls for the police officers involved in McClain's death to be removed from duty while an in-depth investigation into the circumstances of McClain's death takes place.

Piper Rundell said that she was moved to create the petition after learning about McClain's death.

"Hearing that there were cases of police brutality that were happening so close to where I lived kind of inspired me to start the petition," she said. "I was just hoping I could do something. When the petition got 100 signatures, I was so thrilled. ... I'm sure you can imagine my excitement when there were 100,000 signatures, and now it's gained over 2 million."

Rundell said that she has read a variety of stories of McClain's life, with many people who knew him celebrating him for the kind soul that he was.

"People are talking about what an amazing person that he was and even how he used to play music for cats at shelters so they weren't lonely," Rundell said. "I think that this has inspired a lot of people to sign and share the story of his life.

"Elijah would still be alive today if it weren't for police brutality so a conviction for the officers involved is what I'm hoping," she added. "In a system that protects these officers I believe they should at least be removed from duty."

McClain's family describes him as a kind, gentle, and intelligent human being who taught himself how to play the violin and the guitar. He was an avid gardener, loved cats, and keeping active.

Anything else?

McClain's last words were devastating, according to reports:

I can't breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That's my house. I was just going home. I'm an introvert. I'm just different. That's all. I'm so sorry. I have no gun. I don't do that stuff. I don't do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don't even kill flies! I don't eat meat! But I don't judge people, I don't judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity. I'll do it. You are all phenomenal. You are beautiful. And I love you. Try to forgive me. I am a mood Gemini. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work ... [crying] ... Oh, I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to do that. I just can't breathe correctly.

Reports say McClain then went on to vomit due to the pressure on his chest and neck.

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