Aurora city leaders on Wednesday canceled a contract for a third-party investigation of the death of Elijah McClain in police custody after city councilmembers raised concerns that a former police officer was hired for the job.
Unbeknownst to McClain’s family, city council or taxpayers, Aurora city leaders in February hired attorney Eric Daigle, a former Connecticut State Police officer, to lead the investigation. City Manager Jim Twombly for the first time publicly announced the hire on Tuesday and then canceled the contract Wednesday following outcry.
“I hear and understand Council’s concerns—as well as the community’s—about the individual that was hired to conduct the review,” Twombly said in a statement Wednesday. “Therefore, I have canceled Mr. Daigle’s contract and will be meeting with the Council as soon as possible to determine our next steps initiating a new review.”
Calls for an independent investigation into McClain’s Aug. 30 death have grown exponentially over the past weeks as giant protests of police brutality in Colorado and across the country called for systemic change in policing.
The chair and vice-chair of the Aurora City Council’s Public Safety, Courts & Civil Service Commission Policy Committee told The Denver Post on Wednesday that they were not aware that the city had hired Daigle for the investigation until hours before a news conference Tuesday afternoon. They had called on the city to open such an investigation earlier that day.
Mari Newman, who represents McClain’s family, said neither she nor the family were aware that an investigation was ongoing until they saw news reports Tuesday.
“Aurora always promises to tell the family what they are doing, but never do,” Newman said in a text message. “We only learn from the media. This leads me to believe it is really just an investigation to assess their liability.”
The city announced on Feb. 6 that it would begin a “critical incident review” of McClain’s death that would be conducted by a nationally known expert, but never said who that was. The contract between Aurora and Daigle, signed Feb 13, shows the Connecticut attorney was being paid $225 an hour to review evidence, conduct interviews and review policy.
“The scope of the work will also include preparation for, and testimony at, any hearings, depositions, or other legal proceedings stemming from this review,” according to the contract obtained by The Denver Post.
City spokesman Michael Bryant said the amount paid to Daigle through Wednesday was not immediately available. Twombly declined an interview request through the city spokesman.
The three members of the city council safety committee on Wednesday morning issued another letter to Twombly stating that Daigle is not an appropriate person to lead the investigation because he is a former police officer and his firm often defends local governments from lawsuits about police activity.
“Defending municipalities, police chiefs, and individual officers from law enforcement liability claims is, and has been, a significant portion of the experience that Attorney Daigle brings to our clients,” Daigle’s website states. “His years of law enforcement experience, his knowledge and understanding of police and security practices allow us to prepare a defense that will ensure our clients’ rights are protected to the fullest extent of the law.”
The website also states that Daigle remains a reserve member of the Connecticut State Police, where he worked full time from 1992 to 2002.
“The city hired someone to do an ‘independent’ investigation who specializes in protecting cities, which doesn’t pass the smell test,” Councilwoman Allison Hiltz said.
Aurora police stopped McClain, 23, on Aug. 24 because a 911 caller had reported him as suspicious. The officers attempted to arrest McClain when he did not immediately comply with their orders to stop walking. The officers took him to the ground, where one used a carotid hold on him, and a paramedic injected him with ketamine.
McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital, where he died Aug. 30 after he was declared brain dead. The officers who arrested him were cleared of criminal wrongdoing and internal policy violations.
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