Colorado officers placed on leave after photos near site of Elijah McClain's death

A statement from the interim police chief of Aurora, Colorado, does not detail the substance of the photos.

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By Phil Helsel and Colin Sheeley

Officers from the Aurora, Colorado, police department have been placed on paid leave after allegations that "multiple" police officers were depicted in photos near the site where Elijah McClain died, the interim police chief said Monday night.

McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, died last year after he was put in a chokehold by police. His death has sparked protests, and on Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor to investigate his death.

Aurora police interim chief Vanessa Wilson did not detail the photographs or indicate when they were taken. Wilson said in a statement that she was apprised of the allegations reported to internal affairs Thursday afternoon.

"I immediately ordered Internal Affairs to make this investigation their top priority," Wilson said in the statement. "This accelerated investigation was completed this evening."

Wilson said that the investigation, including reports and photographic evidence, "will be publicly released in its entirety promptly upon its conclusion."

Aurora police did not immediately respond to a request for more details about what the photos entail or say how many officers were disciplined.

"All involved officers were immediately placed on administrative leave with pay in non-enforcement capacities," Wilson said in the statement.

McClain was stopped by police Aug. 24 after someone called to report a suspicious person.

Officers applied a chokehold during the confrontation, authorities have said. McClain went into cardiac arrest and was later taken off life support.

The three officers involved in the McClain case have been moved to "non-enforcement" duties.

The caller who reported a suspicious person said that someone wearing a mask was walking on Billings Street and looks "sketchy," but makes no mention of any crime, according to audio of the call.

Caitlin Zotigh, who traveled from Loveland, Colo., raises a sign she painted herself with an image of Elijah McClain doing something he often did while alive, playing a violin, during a march in protest against the death of McClain and police injustice in Aurora, Colo., on June 27, 2020.KEVIN MOHATT / Reuters

McClain often wore a ski mask when he felt cold, his family has said. He had bought iced tea at a convenience store and told officers during the encounter that he was an introvert and on his way home, video shows.

Police said in a statement at the time that "the male would not stop walking down the street from the officer" and "resisted contact, a struggle ensued, and he was taken into custody."

In video, McClain could be heard telling police "I can't breathe correctly."

He suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital after paramedics administered a sedative to calm him. He was later declared brain dead and taken off life support less than a week later.

The coroner for Adams and Broomfield counties found that McClain's death was due to "undetermined causes." The coroner did not rule out whether the police chokehold, in addition to the sedative, might have contributed to his death.