Colorado governor orders probe of death of Black man after police encounter

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[June 26, 2020]  By Keith Coffman

(Reuters) - Colorado Governor Jared Polis on Thursday appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the 2019 death of an unarmed Black man who died days after he was subdued by three policemen and injected with a powerful sedative.

Polis said the state's attorney general, Phil Weiser, will probe the death of Elijah McClain, who died following an encounter with police who applied a carotid neckhold on him. During the incident, paramedics injected him with ketamine and he lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered.

It is one of a series of recent cases of African Americans and Latinos in the United States dying at the hands of police officers, most notably the case of George Floyd who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer last month.

In Tucson, a coroner's report and an internal police investigation found "physical restraint" was a factor in the death of a Latino man who died in police custody in April. Three Tucson police officers, two white and one Black, have resigned over that death.

In the Colorado case, Adams County District Attorney Dave Young said in November there was insufficient evidence for him to charge the officers with any crimes.

McClain, 23, was approached by officers on reports of a man acting erratically in the city of Aurora on Aug. 24, 2019, although he was not suspected of committing a crime, Young said.

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Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man who died days after he was subdued by three policemen and injected with a powerful sedative in August 2019, poses in an undated photograph in Aurora, Colorado, U.S.. Family photo/Handout via REUTERS.

Young said on Thursday McClain's death was "tragic and unnecessary," but defended his decision not to prosecute the officers. An autopsy said the cause of death was undetermined and the pathologist was unable to conclude the officers' actions caused the death, Young said in a statement.

The lawyer for the McClain family, Mari Newman, said she has called for an independent investigation since last fall.

"It is time for a responsible adult to step in, and I am glad that the governor is showing leadership," she said.

The state attorney general, Weiser, said in a statement McClain "should be alive today" and vowed to seek justice for his family. "Our investigation will be thorough, guided by the facts, and worthy of public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system," he said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis)

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