Photos show police reenacting chokehold on Elijah McClain

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FILE – In this June 27, 2020, file photo, demonstrators carry a giant placard during a rally and march over the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain outside the police department in Aurora, Colo. Multiple suburban Denver police officers have been placed on paid administrative leave amid an investigation into photos of them related to the case of a Black man who died last summer after he was stopped and restrained, police said Monday, June 29, 2020. The interim police chief of the city of Aurora, Vanessa Wilson, said in a statement that the suspended officers were “depicted in photographs near the site where Elijah McClain died.” But her statement did not provide more details about what the images show. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Police released photos Friday showing three officers smiling as they reenacted a chokehold that their colleagues used on Elijah McClain, a Black man who died after police stopped him as he walked down the street last summer in a Denver suburb.

Following an internal investigation by the Aurora Police Department, Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson fired three officers, one of whom received the photos by text and responded “haha.” The officer who was seen reenacting the chokehold resigned.

“We are ashamed, we are sickened, and we are angry,” Wilson said. The officers may not have committed a crime, but the photographs are “a crime against humanity and decency,” she added.

McClain’s death got new attention following nationwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice. Facing increasing pressure, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis last week ordered the state attorney general to reopen the case after prosecutors last year declined to charge the three white officers who confronted McClain.

Word of the photos emerged soon afterward. Aurora police launched an investigation last week after another officer reported the photos that were taken near where the 23-year-old was stopped — a site that’s now a memorial.

An unspecified number of the officers were suspended during the investigation, and one resigned this week.

“The fact that three on-duty, in-uniform police officers thought that it was appropriate to reenact the murder, jokingly, shows that the department is rotten to the core,” said Mari Newman, the McClain family’s lawyer who saw the photos before they were publicly released. Elijah’s mother, Sheneen McClain, also saw them.

“For her, it was just devastating to see that people were mocking the murder of her son,” Newman added.

Officials with the Aurora Police Association, the department’s police union, haven’t returned calls seeking comment Thursday or Friday.

Officers stopped McClain, a massage therapist, after a 911 call on Aug. 24, 2019, reported him as suspicious because he was wearing a ski mask and flailing his arms. Police said they had a right to stop him because he was “being suspicious,” and he begged them repeatedly to let go of him, according to body-camera video.

Police placed him in a chokehold that cuts off blood to the brain, and paramedics administered 500 milligrams of a sedative to calm him down. He suffered cardiac arrest, was later declared brain dead and taken off life support.

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