Public barred from appeals hearings for former Aurora officers fired over McClain photo scandal

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DENVER – The city of Aurora shut down the lobby of police headquarters at midnight Thursday as a precaution while a former officer appeals his firing – hearings which are closed to the public.

Aurora Police Lt. Chris Amsler said the lobby would be closed through Saturday morning “out of an abundance of caution” because of the possibility of protests regarding former officer Jason Rosenblatt’s appeal hearing before the Aurora Civil Service Commission.

Rosenblatt was one of three Aurora Police Department officers fired by then-Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who is now the police chief, last July after a picture surfaced of three officers mocking the carotid hold used on Elijah McClain that was taken in front of a memorial for the 23-year-old. The photo had been sent in a group text among officers.

Rosenblatt, who was one of the officers who detained McClain in August 2019 before he was put in a carotid hold and administered ketamine several days before his eventual death, was fired because he texted “haha” after being sent the photo.

Officers Erica Marrero and Kyle Dittrich were also fired because they were pictured in the photo. A third officer in the photos, Jaron Jones, resigned before he could be fired.

Rosenblatt, Marrero and Dittrich all appealed their terminations, and Rosenblatt later sued the city over his firing. The appeals hearings had originally been scheduled for December, but they were postponed to early 2021 because of the pandemic.

City of Aurora spokesperson Michael Bryant said Rosenblatt’s appeal hearing is slated for Thursday and Friday. The hearing for Dittrich and Marrero is set to take place Feb. 1-2.

Bryant said the hearings will all likely be closed to the public, which is a right afforded to people appealing their discipline before the Aurora Civil Service Commission.

At the hearings, the commission will hear evidence and testimony about the three officers’ firing, then decide whether to uphold their firings, reverse the decisions or decide on different discipline measures. The commission’s finding will be issued in a written report – likely two or three weeks after the hearings, Bryant said.

The Aurora City Council is set to hold a Special Study Session on Feb. 22 to hear the details of the results of the city’s independent review of McClain’s death.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced earlier this month he was launching a grand jury investigation into McClain’s death as well. Weiser was appointed by Gov. Jared Polis to be the special prosecutor in a state investigation into McClain’s death, though no charges have been announced stemming from that investigation.

There are several other investigations underway at the state, local and federal levels, including a top-down review of the Aurora Police Department by the state attorney general, an independent investigation by Chicago-based 21CP Solutions to conduct a comprehensive review of the police department, and a review in the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office alongside the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.