Three Aurora, Colorado police officers were fired Friday for their involvement in a photo reenactment of the chokehold used on Elijah McClain, the interim police chief announced. The officer who mimicked the chokehold resigned earlier in the week. McCain was a 23-year-old Black man who died after he was confronted by police officers in August 2019. Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson called the photos of the police officers a "crime against humanity and decency" and an example of "a lack of morals, values and integrity."
Wilson announced the officers' firings during a press conference Friday, showing two photos. One showed officers Jaron Jones, Erica Marrero and Kyle Dittrich smiling near the site of McClain's memorial, reports CBS News. The second photo showed Jones reenacting a carotid hold on Dittrich while the officers are still smiling. Jones resigned earlier in the week, while Morrero, Dittrich and Jason Rosenblatt were fired. Rosenblatt was texted one of the images and replied with "ha ha."
Wilson said she did not show the photos to the public until after McClain's mother, Sheneen McClain, and the family's attorney Marni Newman saw them first. "It’s disgusting to think they’re so callous to murdering an innocent young black man that they think it’s appropriate to joke about it and send around photos," Newman told KDVR. Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman agreed that the officers' actions were "appalling and inexcusable and will not be tolerated."
Wilson said she learned about the photos on June 25 after an officer showed them to his sergeant. She immediately ordered an investigation and held pre-disciplinary hearings on Tuesday. She first put them on paid leave before firing them 72 hours after the hearings, the earliest she could do so.
According to the investigative report, Dittrich said he thought the photos could "cheer everybody up" and he wanted to show support for Nathan Woodyard, one of the officers involved in McClain's death. "l thought it would be, it would cheer everybody up, if we took a selfie, um, we had uh Officer Jaron Jones who just came back to team 30 after he was on a suspension, um, and I just wanted to show Officer Woodyard that we were together, um, in solidarity thinking of him," Dietrich said. Afterward, he realized the photo was in "incredibly" poor taste.
"This is a department where uniformed police officers feel empowered to make a mockery of killing an innocent young black man by returning to the scene of Elijah's murder at the hands of fellow APD officers to take photos of themselves laughingly reenacting the chokehold used to murder Elijah," McClain's family said in a statement. "They then shared their mimicry of Elijah's murder with their fellow APD officers as a department-wide joke."
McClain was confronted by police on Aug. 24, 2019, when someone called 9-1-1 to report seeing a man walking down a street in a ski mask and flailing his arms. Woodyard, Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema responded to the call and kept McClain on the ground for 15 minutes. Woodyard used a carotid control hold on McClain twice, even as he complained he could not breathe. One officer said McClain was reaching for one of their guns. When paramedics arrived, they used ketamine to sedate him. He suffered a cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died on Aug. 30. The officers involved have not been charged, but Colorado Gov. Jared Police picked a special prosecutor to review McClain's death.