The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it is reviewing Elijah McClain’s death to determine if a federal civil rights probe is “warranted.”
The department released a statement acknowledging it typically does “not discuss the existence or progress of ongoing investigations,” but it made an exception for McClain’s case.
“However, there are specific cases in which doing so is warranted if such information is in the best interest of the public and public safety,” the department said. “Recent attention on the death of Elijah McClain warrants such disclosure.”
The statement also revealed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado and the Denver Division of the FBI had been reviewing the case for a possible civil rights investigation since 2019.
The Justice Department said its Civil Rights Division is now involved in the review of McClain’s death. The release said the “matter is ongoing” as the offices work to get more information from the Aurora Police Department and others, adding the city has been cooperating.
The offices wrote that they were “aware” of reports that the officers involved in McClain’s detention were put on leave while an internal investigation into a photograph they appeared in continues.
“We will have no further comment until both of those reviews are completed,” the release added.
McClain’s death last year drew new scrutiny in recent weeks following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody. Floyd’s death sparked protests across the country calling for police reform and demanding justice for those who have died while in police custody.
A Change.org petition made earlier this month requesting a “more in-depth investigation” as well as the removal of the officers involved from the Aurora Police Department has gathered more than 4 million signatures. Colorado Governor Jared Polis also called on officials to investigate McClain’s death.
McClain, a Black man who worked as a massage therapist, died after a confrontation with police. Police placed McClain in a chokehold, and the man then experienced a heart attack in an ambulance before being declared brain dead three days later.
His last words were documented on police body camera footage: “I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me … I’m so sorry.”
The officers involved in the arrest were placed on administrative leave on Thursday after photos surfaced allegedly showing them near the site where McClain died. The photos prompted Interim Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson to make an investigation a “top priority,” she said in a Monday statement.
Officials have not provided more details on the unreleased photos, but sources told a local CBS affiliate that the photos allegedly depict the officers reenacting the hold that came before McClain’s death.
Protests over McClain’s death blocked a highway in Aurora over the weekend.