Arbery and McClain Indictments a Sea Change in Police Prosecutions?

By Andrew Leonatti on September 09, 2021 | Last updated on September 20, 2021

Last year's killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and subsequent protests also brought renewed attention to other high-profile killings of Black people and how police and prosecutors often avoided accountability. And now, recent indictments in the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Elijah McClain indicate that momentum could be building.

While these cases are just getting started, racial justice activists and friends and family of the victims applauded the indictments. These are two separate cases, but they could be sending the same message, signaling that the public will demand justice and full and fair investigations when people are killed under suspicious circumstances involving law enforcement.

Officers, Paramedics Charged in Death of Elijah McClain

A grand jury recently indicted three police officers and two paramedics in Aurora, Colorado, on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the August 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser convened the grand jury after prosecutors originally declined to file charges in 2019.

An unarmed McClain was walking home at the time police stopped him. Friends and family all described him as a gentle soul, and bodycam footage of the incident showed a McClain who was telling officers that he couldn't breathe and that he was "an introvert."

Officers put McClain in a chokehold twice that caused him to briefly lose consciousness. Paramedics then injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine, describing him as in a state of "excited delirium." He never regained consciousness and was later removed from life support.

The initial coroner's investigation cited "intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery" as contributing factors in McClain's death. However, the new indictment clearly places blame on police and paramedics' use of ketamine and chokeholds.

"Mr. McClain was a normal healthy 23-year-old man prior to encountering law enforcement and medical response personnel," the indictment reads.

Prosecutor Charged for Blocking Arbery Investigation

In Georgia, a grand jury has indicted former Glynn County prosecutor Jackie Johnson, with "violation of oath of public officer" and "obstruction and hinder a law enforcement officer" for her role in the investigation of the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

The indictment alleges that Johnson failed "to treat [Arbery] and his family fairly and with dignity," when she allegedly told police officers not to arrest Travis McMichael, the man who shot and killed Arbery. McMichael, his father Greg, and William Bryan are charged with murdering Arbery after encountering him outside a construction site and chasing after him. The defendants are claiming that they acted in self-defense and that they thought Arbery was a burglar.

Johnson initially recused herself from the investigation because Greg McMichael previously worked as an investigator for her office. But she allegedly failed to follow conflict of interest rules in steering the case to a nearby district attorney, whose son was a prosecutor in Johnson's office and had also worked with Greg McMichael. In short, Johnson stands accused of "showing favor" to the suspects of a then-active murder investigation.

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