One of the Colorado policemen involved in the death of Elijah McClain last August has been fired after receiving photos of three officers mocking and re-enacting the killing, outside the 23-year-old’s memorial.
The Aurora Police Department on Friday announced Jason Rosenblatt was fired, along with officers Erica Marrero and Kyle Dittrich for their involvement in the October 2019 incident.
A fourth officer, Jaron Jones, who also appeared in the images, resigned on Tuesday ahead of the pre-disciplinary hearing.
Rosenblatt, who was one of three Aurora cops involved in McClain’s fatal arrest, did take part in the pictures but was terminated after receiving them in a text message and responding: ‘HaHa’.
Aurora Interim Chief Vanessa Wilson publicly released the photos for the first time, which showed Jones pretending to put Dittrich in a chokehold while Marrero looks on and laughs.
All three officers were on duty and in uniform at the time.
They were taken two months after McClain, 23, a massage therapist who loved animals and who taught himself to play the guitar and the violin, died after cops held him in a chokehold on August 24.
‘We’re ashamed, we’re sickened and we’re angry,’ Chief Wilson said in a press conference on Friday. ‘While the allegations of this internal affairs case are not criminal, it is a crime against humanity and decency.’
‘It shows a lack of morals, values and integrity, and judgment. I can no longer trust to allow them to wear this badge,’ she added.
Wilson said the disturbing images were shown to McClain’s family before they were released to the public.
‘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.
‘For her, [Elijah’s mother, Sheneen McClain] it was just devastating to see that people were mocking the murder of her son,’ Newman added.
The police union reacted with anger to Rosenblatt’s firing, saying he was only terminated for receiving the photos, which he had no part in making, and saying there had not been sufficient investigation.
McClain’s death has become a rallying cry amid a national reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice, with the state reopening the case for possible criminal charges and federal officials looking into a civil rights investigation.
In several places, the chokehold has been banned and other police reforms passed after nationwide protests.
According to the investigative report, the images were brought to Wilson’s attention last week by an uninvolved officer who saw them and reported them to the chief.
The cops involved were immediately placed on administrative leave and the department launched an Internal Affairs Investigation.
Rosenblatt told investigators during an interview that he gave such a response because ‘I nervous laugh and I wanted to give something short and concise and not engage in anyway, and just let them know that – kinda just be done with it.
‘I don’t know if you’ve texted anybody but if you give a short response then you kinda close yourself down for discussion a little bit and that’s kinda what I was hoping for’, he added.
In an interview with Dittrich, he said the three officers had been returning from a call nearby and decided to take a selfie to ‘cheer up’ their colleague, Nathan Woodyard, who was involved in McClain’s arrest.
‘After we were done with that call, after we handled it, we were walking back to our cars, and I just thought it would be…um I thought it would be – it would cheer Woody up if we took a selfie.
‘… I just wanted to show Officer Woodyard that, you know, we were … together, um in solidarity thinking of him, and so I thought it would be funny if we took a photo there.’
The McClain family released a statement on Friday saying the police department had reached a ‘new low.’
‘Just when you think the Aurora police cannot get any worse, they reach a new low. This is a department with police who tackled an innocent young black man, inflicted fifteen minutes of multiple kinds of excessive force, including two carotid chokeholds, who stood over him joking, “Don’t get that on me” while he was vomiting from the pain, and threatened to sic a dog on him because he wasn’t lying still enough while dying,’ they said.
‘Now we learn that this is a department where uniformed police officers feel empowered to make a mockery of killing an innocent young black man by returning to the scene of Elijah’s murder at the hands of fellow APD officers to take photos of themselves laughingly reenacting the chokehold used to murder Elijah.’
McClain, an asthmatic, was walking home from a convenience store in Aurora at 10.30pm when someone called 911, saying he ‘looked sketchy’ and was wearing a ski mask and waving his arms.
The police arrived and, after struggling to handcuff McClain, officers brought him to the ground and used a carotid hold, which restricts blood to the brain to render someone unconscious.
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.
When medical responders arrived, after about 15 minutes, paramedics injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative. McClain suffered cardiac arrest, was later declared brain dead and taken off life support.
Mike Coffman, mayor of Aurora, called the pictures of the cops deeply troubling. ‘It really reopens wounds in our community,’ he said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI last week revealed a federal probe into McClain’s death was launched last year.
The three officers who attended the 911 call on August 24 – Nathan Woodyard, Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema – were placed on administrative leave, but they were all reinstated.
District Attorney Dave Young said at the time that charges could not be brought against the three because a pathologist could not determine whether it was homicide.
McClain’s death generated renewed attention after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis in May stirred worldwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality.
The governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, recently appointed the Attorney General, Phil Weiser, as a special prosecutor to look into McClain’s case.
Rosenblatt was not fired for his role in the killing, but rather for receiving the image.
Meghan McCain, co-host of The View, tweeted his final words, as heard on police audio.
‘Listen to the audio and tell me there isn’t true, unabashed evil in this world,’ she tweeted.
In the audio, McClain tells the police he isn’t armed, and has no intention of hurting anyone, saying: ‘Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people.’
Later, as the choke hold tightens, he says: ‘Oww – that really hurt. You are all very strong. Team work makes the dream work.’
He then begins crying.
As other officers join to restrain McClain, he begs them to let go and says, ‘You guys started to arrest me, and I was stopping my music to listen.’
In the video, McClain tells officers: ‘Let go of me. I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.’
His death last August has prompted a handful of small protests over the last 10 months, but his case has garnered renewed attention amid a global outcry sparked by the Memorial Day death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.