A number of police officers have been placed on paid leave after allegedly re-enacting a chokehold near the scene of a Black man’s fatal arrest.
Elijah McClain, 23, died last year in Aurora, in the US state of Colorado, after three white officers stopped him as he walked down the street and one put him into a chokehold.
CBS4 journalist Brian Maass claims sources have told him the three officers were photographed re-enacting the chokehold near the site of Mr McClain’s fatal arrest.
It’s not clear if they were on duty and or in uniform.
Meanwhile, federal authorities announced on Tuesday (local time) they have been reviewing Mr McClain’s death to see if a civil rights investigation is warranted and will also look at whether one is needed in the case of the photo allegations.
In a joint statement, the Colorado US Attorney’s Office, the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI said the review began last year and was ongoing.
The Justice Department usually does not comment on investigations until they are complete, but the announcement noted “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 interim police chief of the city of Aurora, Vanessa Wilson, announced the internal police investigation into the photo allegations on Monday night (local time).
In a statement, she said the suspended officers were “depicted in photographs near the site where Elijah McClain died”.
She did not provide more details about what the images show or how many officers were on leave.
The two photos were taken near where police stopped the 23-year-old on August 24 as they responded to a report of a suspicious person walking down the street wearing a face mask, Aurora police spokesman Officer Matthew Longshore said.
The pictures were not taken during the fatal run-in, Mr Longshore said.
Mr McClain’s death generated new attention after the death of George Floyd stirred worldwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality.
Mr Floyd died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes.
‘Stop tensing up’
In Mr McClain’s case, police body-camera video shows an Aurora officer getting out of his car, approaching McClain and saying, “Stop right there. Stop. Stop... I have a right to stop you because you’re being suspicious.”
In the video, the officer turns Mr McClain around and repeats, “Stop tensing up.”
As Mr McClain tries to escape the officer’s grip, the policeman says, “Relax, or I’m going to have to change this situation.”
As other officers join to restrain Mr McClain, he begs them to let go and says, “You guys started to arrest me, and I was stopping my music to listen.”
Aurora police have said Mr McClain refused to stop walking and fought back when officers tried to take him into custody.
The officers used a chokehold that cuts off blood to the brain — a tactic recently banned in several places following Mr Floyd’s death.
In the video, Mr McClain tells officers: “Let go of me. I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”
Paramedics administered 500 milligrams of a sedative to calm him down, police have said.
He was on the ground for 15 minutes as several officers and paramedics stood by.
Mr McClain, a massage therapist and self-taught violinist, suffered cardiac arrest and was later declared brain dead and taken off life support.
A forensic pathologist could not determine what exactly led to his death but said physical exertion during the confrontation likely contributed.
An officer reported the photos to the department’s internal affairs division on Thursday (local time).
Chief Wilson said she learned of the investigation that day and ordered investigators to make it their top priority.
The investigation was completed on Monday (local time) and the results, including the photos, will be made public after police officials give a review and Chief Wilson makes a decision on how to respond, Mr Longshore said.
The chief’s decision could be appealed by the officers under investigation, which would delay the results being released, he said.
Mr McClain’s family said the photos were a “new low” for the department.
“This is a department where officers tackled an innocent young black man for no reason, inflicted outrageous force — including two carotid chokeholds — for fifteen minutes as he pled for his life, joked when he vomited, and threatened to sic a dog on him for not lying still enough as he was dying,” the family said in a statement.
The three officers who stopped Mr McClain did not face any criminal charges after an investigation by the district attorney, but Democratic Governor Jared Polis directed Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser last week to reopen the investigation and possibly prosecute them.
Police have been criticised for wearing riot gear and using pepper spray against some people at a protest on Saturday (local time) over Mr McClain’s death, which included a violin vigil, but have denied allegations of using tear gas.
Chief Wilson defended her officers’ response to what she described as a group of agitators at an otherwise peaceful protest.
“Who didn’t do it the right way were those agitators who were arming themselves, that were putting on helmets and gas masks and throwing rocks at my officers,” Chief Wilson told KUSA-TV.
with The Associated Press
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.