DENVER (AP) — A suburban Denver police officer fired for his reaction to photos appearing to mock the death of a Black man who was stopped by police last year says he was denied a review hearing as required by city and police regulations, according to a lawsuit against officials.
Jason Rosenblatt filed a lawsuit against Aurora Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly on July 2, the day before he was told he would be fired, asking a judge to declare that he had a right to an independent review board hearing. According to the lawsuit, first reported by KDVR-TV, Wilson said that a hearing was not required and that she had discretion as police chief not to hold one.
The lawsuit requested that the court hold a hearing on the issue quickly to prevent “immediate and irreparable harm.” The status of the case now is not clear because Rosenblatt has already been fired over his reaction to the photos related to Elijah McClain’s death.
A spokesperson for the city would not comment on the case because of pending litigation.
Rosenblatt’s lawyer did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Rosenblatt, one of the officers who arrested McClain in August, received the photo depicting Kyle Dittrich, Erica Marrero and Jaron Jones smiling as they reenacted the chokehold their colleagues used on McClain, who died after police stopped him as he walked down the street in the Denver suburb of Aurora. Rosenblatt responded by text with “Haha.”
Wilson launched an investigation into two photos taken by the officers after another officer reported that they were taken near where the 23-year-old was stopped — a site that’s now a memorial. She called the photos “a crime against humanity and decency.”
Rosenblatt, Marrero and Dittrich were fired for conduct unbecoming of an officer. Jaron Jones resigned.
Dittrich and Marrero filed appeals of their termination in early July with the Aurora Civil Service Commission.
McClain’s death drew national attention in the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice. After facing increasing pressure, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis told the state attorney general to reopen the case in June after prosecutors last year declined to charge the three white officers who confronted McClain.
On Monday, the Aurora city council announced a new independent investigator, Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, who will lead a three-person team to review the case. Aurora’s previous investigative hire came under scrutiny for his previous work in law enforcement and was taken off the case
Officers stopped McClain, a massage therapist, after a 911 call on Aug. 24, 2019, reported him because he was wearing a ski mask and flailing his arms. Police said they had a right to stop him because he was “being suspicious.” He begged them repeatedly to let go of him, according to body-camera video.
Police placed him in a chokehold that cuts off blood to the brain, and paramedics administered 500 milligrams of a sedative to calm him down. He suffered cardiac arrest, then was later declared brain dead and taken off life support.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.”