By BILL HUTCHISON and CLAYTON SANDELL, ABC NEWS
(AURORA, Colo.) — A Colorado police officer resigned ahead of his chief’s imminent announcement of her disciplinary decision over troubling photos allegedly linked to him and his colleagues that were taken near the scene of where Elijah McClain was placed in a police chokehold and later died.
Officer Jaron Jones of the Aurora Police Department submitted his resignation amid local, state and federal investigations launched when images of him and other officers posing near a memorial for McClain surfaced last week.
“In response to inquiries by the press, Jaron Jones, hired October 31, 2016, tendered his resignation. Jones was one of the employees involved and depicted in the photograph investigation related to #ElijahMcClain,” Aurora police officials said in a statement posted Thursday on Twitter.
No further information was announced.
Interim Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson issued a statement on Monday saying she had pulled multiple officers from street duty and made the probe into the photo a “top priority.”
A source familiar with the investigation told ABC News that Wilson met with her internal affairs review board on Tuesday and subsequently made a disciplinary decision. The decision has been sent to the officers in question who each have the option of appealing.
The photos, which have not been made public, were brought to the attention of the department’s Internal Affairs bureau by an Aurora police officer, Wilson said in her statement this week.
She said an “accelerated investigation” was completed Monday evening and that she plans to soon publicly release the results of the probe “in its entirety.”
“This will include reports, photographic evidence obtained, officer’s names, and my final determination which can rise to the level of termination,” Wilson said.
She did not provide details of what the photos show the officers doing.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the Denver division of the FBI said in a joint statement this week that the agencies are aware of photographs and are “gathering further information about that incident to determine whether a federal civil rights investigation is warranted.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has also appointed a special prosecutor to reinvestigate McClain’s death and file charges if “the facts support prosecution.”
McClain, 23-year-old Black man, was walking home in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, after buying iced tea at a corner store on Aug. 24, 2019, when he was stopped by police, Mari Newman, an attorney for McClain’s family, told ABC News last week.
He was wearing a ski mask on a warm night — which Newman attributed to him being cold — when a person called 911 at 10:30 p.m. to report him acting “sketchy,” according to an audio recording of the 911 call released by the Aurora Police Department.
The caller told a 911 operator that a man, later identified as McClain, “has a mask on” and “he might be a good person or a bad person.” The caller went on to say no weapons were involved and when asked if he or anyone else was in danger, the caller said “No.”
Police body camera footage showed McClain walking on the sidewalk when three officers approached him, with one telling him multiple times to stop. But McClain, who was apparently listening to music at the time, continued to walk. According to the body camera footage, an officer put his hands on McClain, saying, “Stop tensing up.” McClain replied, “Let go of me” and told the police that he was “just going home.”
The officers took McClain to the ground and placed him in a carotid control hold — which involves an officer placing his arm around a person’s neck, restricting the flow of blood to the brain from the carotid arteries, according to a letter from Dave Young, the district attorney for Adams and Broomfield Counties, to then-Aurora Police Chief Nicholas Metz. McClain, who was placed in handcuffs, is seen in the footage at one point throwing up after the struggle with officers while he is on the ground.
According to Young’s letter, paramedics called to the scene said McClain remained combative and possibly suffered from a condition known as excited delirium. McClain was later administered, by paramedics, what Newman alleged was an “excessive dose” of ketamine, which is used by medical practitioners and veterinarians as an anesthetic.
After McClain was put in an ambulance, he went into cardiac arrest, according to police. He died several days later.
A pathologist who conducted an autopsy was unable to conclude that the actions of any law enforcement officer caused the death, Young said in a statement he released last week.
While Young said McClain’s death “was both tragic and unnecessary,” he declined to file criminal charges against the officers, saying, “In order to prove any form of homicide in the State of Colorado it is mandatory that the prosecution prove that the accused caused the death of the victim.”
“Based on the facts and evidence of this investigation I cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers involved in this incident were not justified in their actions based on what they knew at the time of this incident,” Young said.
The controversy over the photos emerged as Aurora police have come under scrutiny after being video recorded using batons and pepper spray on protesters gathered in a park for a demonstration over McClain’s death. Some demonstrators were playing violins in honor of McClain, who played the instrument when police used force to disperse the crowd.
During a virtual emergency city council meeting Tuesday night, dozens of public comments from residents, including some who said they attended protests on Saturday, were read, the majority critical of the force police used on protesters.
“The police escalated a peaceful vigil into another example of police brutality in this country. I’ve been beyond disgusted by the Aurora police,” one resident’s comment read.
Another added, “What’s the point of the First Amendment when all law enforcement does is violate it?”
Wilson defended her officers, telling the city council that among the peaceful protesters there was a group of agitators attempting to stir up trouble.
She said several groups converged on the Aurora Municipal Center in the early afternoon and were peaceful until a couple of hours later when a group of roughly 50 agitators began pushing over barricades. She said the department had received intelligence that violence-prone groups intended to cause trouble.
Wilson said some protesters threw objects at officers, who were wearing riot gear and carrying shields.
She said one man in the crowd was armed with a rifle and another with a handgun, while officers observed a woman handing out rocks from a backpack. Undercover officers, Wilson said, reported hearing talk that some protestors wanted to storm the police department building.
Wilson claimed that at one point, officers were actually trying to separate peaceful “violin vigil” protestors from a small group of violence-prone agitators, something she says police failed to communicate to the mostly peaceful crowd.
“I’m deeply concerned that children were frightened by that,” Wilson said. “People were confused by that, and I profusely apologize for that.”
ABC News’ Ella Torres contributed to this report.
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