Three White officers responding to reports of a suspicious person wearing a ski mask stopped Elijah McClain, 23, in August 2019. McClain was unarmed and reportedly wore a ski mask because his anemia sometimes made him feel cold. The officers put him in a chokehold and pinned him to the ground using a carotid hold -- which applies pressure to the side of a person's neck, temporarily cutting off blood flow to the brain. During the incident, McClain sobbed, said he could not breathe and vomited.
Paramedics later injected him with about 500 milligrams of ketamine. The anesthetic also is known as “Special K” when used illegally.
McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital. He was pronounced brain dead and taken off life support a few days later.
“We have filed this civil rights lawsuit to demand justice for Elijah McClain, to hold accountable the Aurora officials, police officers, and paramedics responsible for his murder, and to force the City of Aurora to change its longstanding pattern of brutal and racist policing,” the family said in a statement released through their attorney.
The lawsuit alleges that one of the officers kneed McClain in the arm “with the sole purpose of inflicting pain by forcefully separating Elijah’s bicep and triceps muscles.”
In portions of it, McClain, in a sobbing voice, denies having done anything wrong. He tells officers he’s “just different,” and, “I can’t breathe, please stop.”
“When we showed up, he was wearing a ski mask,” someone can be heard saying.
An autopsy ruled McClain’s cause of death “undetermined,” but said “intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery” were contributing factors.
"Most likely the decedent's physical exertion contributed to death," the medical examiner found. "It is unclear if the officers' actions contributed as well."
An internal review found that “the actions of responders were consistent and aligned with established protocols set by medical doctors outside of the city,” officials said.
The case gained renewed attention after the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. Floyd, who was also Black, was pinned down by multiple officers, including one who held his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
State authorities initially declined to press charges against the officers or the paramedics involved with the incident – but Gov. Jared Polis later appointed a special prosecutor to investigate. The city opened another independent investigation in late July.
And three Aurora police officers were fired and another resigned in July after being linked to photos taken near the site of a memorial for McClain, one of which showed the officers reenacting the chokehold used on McClain
The Justice Department and FBI said in late June that they were considering their own possible civil rights investigation into the young man’s death.
McClain worked as a massage therapist, was fond of animals and taught himself how to play multiple instruments, according to the Colorado newspaper the Sentinel. He would play his violin for abandoned pets at animal shelters and was a vegetarian.
Fox News’ Dom Calicchio and the Associated Press contributed to this report.