Three suburban Denver officers fired over photos reenacting a neckhold like the one police used on Elijah McClain before the 23-year-old Black man died in 2019 will not get their jobs back, officials said Tuesday.
In decisions upholding the terminations of Aurora Officers Erica Marrero, Kyle Dittrich and Jason Rosenblatt, the Aurora Civil Service Commission noted that the photos, which became public about a month after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, caused pain for McClain’s family and hurt already-strained relations between police and the community.
McClain’s death drew renewed attention last year amid the national reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice, prompting investigations by the city, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI.
Police Chief Vanessa Wilson fired the three officers last year over the photos taken at a memorial to McClain two months after his death. Marrero, Dittrich and another officer who resigned, Jaron Jones, are shown smiling in one photo taken on Oct. 20, 2019, and in another, Jones has his arm around Dittrich’s neck in a fake neckhold like the one used on McClain.
Dittrich texted the photos to two officers who stopped McClain — Nathan Woodyard and Rosenblatt — to try to cheer up Woodyard, authorities said. Rosenblatt responded “ha ha,” while Woodyard did not respond and deleted the photos. Woodyard was not disciplined.
Officers stopped McClain as he walked down the street on Aug. 24, 2019, after a 911 caller reported that he looked suspicious. Besides the neckhold, McClain was injected with the sedative ketamine. He suffered cardiac arrest and was taken off life support.
Rosenblatt initially tried to put McClain in the neckhold but couldn’t because of his position. The maneuver, called a carotid control hold, restricts the flow of blood to a person’s brain, rendering them unconscious. It’s been banned in several places after nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.
According to a lawsuit the McClain family filed against police and paramedics, Marrero and Dietrich were among the officers who arrived after McClain was restrained on the ground.
In July, Jones resigned over the photos, and Marrero, Dittrich and Rosenblatt were fired for conduct unbecoming of an officer. The three had appealed their terminations and can still sue to get their jobs back.
Wilson, the police chief, said Aurora officers must serve the community with “dignity, respect and a sense of humanity.”
“This supportive decision of the Civil Service Commission enables us to take another step forward on our path to a new way in rebuilding trust with our community through transparency and accountability,” she said in a statement.
Last year, the commission upheld Wilson’s firing of an officer for failing to help a restrained Black woman begging for help after she became lodged upside down in the back of his patrol car.