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Colorado reopens case of Black man who died after being put in chokehold by police

Colorado’s governor appointed a special prosecutor Thursday to investigate the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was put in a chokehold by police in suburban Denver last year.

Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order directing state Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate McClain’s death and possibly prosecute those involved. McClain’s name has become a rallying cry during the national reckoning over racism and police brutality following the deaths of George Floyd and others.

“Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern,” Polis said in a statement.

He said he has spoken with McClain’s mother and was moved by her description of her son as a “responsible and curious child … who could inspire the darkest soul.”

Police in suburban Aurora received a call about a suspicious person wearing a ski mask and waving his arms as he walked down a street on Aug. 24, 2019. Police say McClain refused to stop walking and fought back when officers confronted him and tried to take him into custody.

Lawyer Mari Newman, right, hugs Sheneen McClain, mother of Elijah, on Nov. 23, 2019. On Thursday, Colorado’s governor appointed a special prosecutor to re-examine the circumstances of the young man’s death. (Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado via The Associated Press)

One of the officers put McClain in a chokehold that cuts off blood to the brain, something that has been banned in several places in the wake of Floyd’s death on May 25 under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer and the global protests that followed.

Police body-camera video shows McClain telling officers: “Let go of me. I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.” Those words have appeared on scores of social media posts demanding justice for McClain.

McClain was kept on the ground for 15 minutes, then paramedics gave him 500 milligrams of a sedative to calm him down. McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and was declared brain dead on Aug. 27. He was taken off life support three days later.

A forensic pathologist working for the coroner could not determine what exactly led to his death but said physical exertion during the confrontation likely contributed.

McClain was a massage therapist who planned to go to college, his younger sister, Samara McClain, told The Denver Post shortly after his death. She said her brother was walking to a corner store to get tea for a cousin and often wore masks when he was outside because he had a blood condition that caused him to get cold easily.

The attorney general said in a statement that the investigation will be thorough and “worthy of public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.”

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