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Colorado Will Investigate Elijah McClain's Death, Revisit Use Of Sedative In Arrests

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has directed state officials to investigate and possibly prosecute the police killing of 23-year-old Elijah McClain.

In the 15 minutes that followed McClain, a Black man, getting arrested, police put him in a chokehold and held him to the ground. He went into cardiac arrest on his way to a hospital and died days later.

Polis says he’s confident the attorney general’s independent investigation “can come to the right conclusion.”

“Certainly [what] Elijah’s mother deserves, what really everybody deserves across our state, is justice and knowing that there is a fair process of evaluating whether criminal charges can be brought,” he says.

Paramedics administered the drug ketamine to sedate McClain. Many Colorado fire departments have a waiver from the state to use it in cases of excited delirium, a controversial condition not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.

Colorado will revisit the controversial use of ketamine in arrests, he says.

“The independent investigation will, of course, look at any potential criminal wrongdoing among any of the folks, the officers or the paramedics that led to the tragic death of Elijah,” he says.

Interview Highlights

On Colorado’s statewide police reforms and why the bill bans chokeholds completely, rather than just “in cases where officers are legally allowed to use deadly force”

“Actually, Elijah McClain’s mom was one of the folks involved with that effort to pass that bill. … You know, Elijah would be very likely alive today had this bill that I just signed been the law a year ago. So this can help prevent future tragedies. It does ban chokeholds and also provides additional accountability for officer-involved killings.”

On Colorado avoiding a COVID-19 spike despite having opened up early

“So far, Coloradans are doing an excellent job wearing masks and staying six feet [away] from others. But, of course, we, like everybody, are very worried about this potential increase. We’re obviously worried about people from our adjacent states, including Arizona. And Colorado comes very close to bordering Texas. … People can drive — and do [drive] — to our state, tens of thousands of people a day. So while it had been under control here, of course, we’re worried about additional people bringing the virus in from other areas.

“… We have a mask-wearing requirement in our restaurants, in our grocery stores and other stores, and we take that very seriously. … And we have a tourism education campaign making sure the tourists know that they’re no longer in Florida or Texas, they’re in Colorado, and they have to follow our local rules and safety regulations.”

On President Trump’s handling of the pandemic

“I’m not sure he’s really taking it as seriously as he should be. I wish that he modeled mask-wearing. I wish that he was more supportive of real diligence in the supply chain to be able to support the states with what we need with regard to masks and testing, and that this was, you know, the area that we had a serious president to spend his time on. He seems to be focused on other things when, frankly, the pandemic is the biggest, not only health issue, but the biggest economic issue that the world, and of course America, faces.”

On this reaction, as the nation’s first openly gay governor, to the Supreme Court decision on LGBTQ employment protections — and where the fight for LGBTQ rights goes next

“I was certainly pleasantly surprised. … In Colorado, we do have fully inclusive workplace protection, we’ve had that for some time, where nobody can be fired because they’re gay or lesbian or transgender. But I certainly recognize that in many states they didn’t. So as an American, I really celebrated the Supreme Court, really making a strong statement, binding statement that people shouldn’t be fired because of who they are or who they love.

“There’s [an] equality act nationally, which [I’m] a strong supporter of — when I used to be in Congress, I was a co-sponsor of — that would prevent discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in a wide variety of ways, housing, public benefits, in many ways that many Americans take for granted. But there still is, in some parts of our country, legal discrimination against people just because of who they love or who they are.”


Francesca Paris produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Paris and Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.