Several officers are under investigation after allegedly posing in pictures at the Colorado location where Elijah McClain died last year.
On Monday, the Aurora Police Department's interim Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson issued a statement announcing that an investigation has been launched into a report that officers were "depicted in photographs near the site where Elijah McClain died."
McClain, 23, was an unarmed Black man who went into a coma and died after being placed in a chokehold by Aurora police in August 2019. The Colorado Attorney General's Office opened an investigation into the death this month after a petition attracted millions of signatures.
"Thursday afternoon, I was apprised of allegations reported to Internal Affairs by an Aurora Police Officer alleging multiple Aurora Police officers were depicted in photographs near the site where Elijah McClain died," Wilson said. "All involved officers were immediately placed on administrative leave with pay in non-enforcement capacities."
Wilson added that the "accelerated" Internal Affairs investigation was made "top priority," and the department will publicly release the final conclusion promptly, including photographic evidence, officer's names and Wilson's "final determination which can rise to the level of termination."
A spokesperson for the Aurora Police Department did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for further comment.
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According to KCNC, three officers are involved in the photo-taking scandal, which the outlet reported allegedly shows the law enforcement officers reenacting the restraint used on McClain. KCNC reporter Brian Maass also said the photos were allegedly circulated among other officers.
Following an outcry on social media, the Colorado Attorney General's Office announced it will investigate the death of McClain. In a statement last week, Attorney General Phil Weiser said McClain "should be alive today."
"His life mattered and his death was tragic. The pain, frustration, and anger that his family and many Coloradans are feeling from his death is understandable and justified," said Weiser.
"Whenever someone dies after an encounter with law enforcement, the community deserves a thorough investigation," he said. "Our investigation will be thorough, guided by the facts, and worthy of public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system."
At the time he encountered the officers, McClain was returning from a store where he'd purchased four cans of iced tea. When police approached him, McClain was wearing a ski mask — something the anemic man did often, as his chronic condition usually made his face feel colder when he went on walks.
According to authorities, a struggle ensued as the officers tried to detain the unarmed McClain, placing him in a chokehold and pinning him to the ground for 15 minutes.
While pinned, McClain allegedly started vomiting and told the officers he was having difficulty breathing. Paramedics were summoned to the scene, and, claiming McClain was in an agitated state, they injected him with ketamine, a sedative.
McClain suffered a heart attack and fell into a coma. He was removed from life support six days later, on Aug. 30, 2019.
Earlier this month, Aurora authorities announced a ban on the use of chokeholds by its officers.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.
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