Elijah McClain memorial

A makeshift memorial stands at a site across the street from where Elijah McClain was stopped by Aurora Police Department officers while walking home on, Aug. 24, 2019.

In the two years since Aurora police and paramedics encountered Elijah McClain — which resulted in the 23-year-old's death — Colorado has moved  to hold police accountable through laws, courts and investigations, as McClain and other Black people around the country have died at the hands of law enforcement.

Tuesday marks the second anniversary of the day McClain was stopped by three Aurora Police Department officers who had received a 9-1-1 report of suspicious behavior. He had been walking the few blocks home from a convenience store after buying iced tea for his brother. He was wearing a face mask and listening to headphones, which his friends told the Aurora Sentinel was likely why he did not immediately answer officers when they asked for him to stop.

Body-worn camera footage showed that police used a now-banned carotid, or choke hold, on McClain during a struggle. Once on a stretcher, Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics gave McClain a dose of ketamine, a sedative. He went into cardiac arrest on the ride to the hospital and was taken off of life support six days later on Aug. 30, 2019.

Law enforcement officers in Colorado are largely banned from using the chemical restraint, but ketamine has still been a hot topic legislatively this year.

House Bill 1251 from Reps. Yadira Caraveo of Thornton and Leslie Herod of Denver, and Sens. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Julie Gonzales of Denver, all of whom are Democrats, creates reporting requirements for officers who witness a colleague directing an EMT to administer ketamine and places stricter requirements on personnel who administer the drug. The governor signed the measure into law.

In Congress, a bill introduced in June by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using the sedative during the arrest or detention of suspects,  but it has seen little action since its introduction.

After Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in May 2020, investigations began to mount in McClain's case. Attorney General Phil Weiser's office is conducting a grand jury inquiry into McClain's death specifically, and another investigation of Aurora's police practices more broadly.

Earlier this year, a report that the city commissioned found police had no reasonable suspicion to stop McClain, that paramedics did not perform a meaningful examination of McClain, and that the ketamine dosage he actually received was not based on his accurate body weight.

McClain's mother and father filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Aurora and the personnel involved. The Denver Post reported on Sunday that a resolution to the case is near.

"The parties are making progress toward a resolution," Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney representing mother Sheneen McClain, confirmed to Colorado Politics.

McClain, Floyd and other victims of police brutality were front of mind for lawmakers in the passage of Senate Bill 217, a landmark law enforcement accountability measure that passed just weeks after the 2020 racial justice protests began. Among other things, it mandated body-worn cameras and disclosure of footage by local departments and the Colorado State Patrol, and allows people to sue officers directly for their conduct.

"There’s nothing new about Black and brown Coloradans feeling a target on their backs," said then-House Speaker K.C. Becker, D-Boulder at the time. "It shouldn’t take viral videos of police brutality or massive protests all over the country to jolt us into action. But in any case, I'm glad we’re here now."

Herod, a key force behind SB 217, said in a Sunday tweet honoring Sheneen McClain, "We are not done. The fight continues."

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