Elijah McClain protest leader sues Aurora over malicious prosecution

A woman who was charged with attempted kidnapping after leading a 2020 demonstration against Aurora police over the death of Elijah McClain sued the city in federal court this week on the grounds she was falsely arrested as part of a malicious prosecution.

Eliza Lucero, who in 2020 helped organize protests in Denver and Aurora against police violence for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, was one of five protest leaders who were arrested on felony charges after leading a march of about 600 people around an Aurora Police Department substation on July 3, 2020, over the death of McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after being stopped by police and injected with ketamine in 2019.

Lucero and two other leaders were charged with attempted first-degree kidnapping on the grounds the protesters blocked officers from leaving the police station — but a judge threw out those charges during a 2021 preliminary hearing, and all remaining charges against Lucero and the other protesters were later dropped.

Lucero names the city of Aurora and Detective Andrew Silberman, who authored a 33-page affidavit against her, as defendants in the lawsuit. Aurora police declined to comment on the lawsuit. Silberman could not be reached and his attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.

Lucero accuses the detective and city of carrying out a bogus prosecution based on false information and pretense, and alleges city and police officials “established a policy and practice” to target people who helped organize protests related to McClain’s death.

“Armed with a warrant he secured only through deception, Detective Silberman had Ms. Lucero arrested by a SWAT team, incarcerated for eight days during the height of COVID, and initiated an unfathomable malicious prosecution that threatened Ms. Lucero with decades in prison,” attorney Adam Frank wrote in the complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

Silberman brought the attempted kidnapping charges on the basis that the large crowd of protesters forced Aurora police officers to stay inside a police station by using ropes to tie doors shut and obstructing exits with furniture. But Frank alleges that the police officers actually stayed inside because they had been ordered to do so by then-Chief Vanessa Wilson, who did not want to see a confrontation between the officers and protesters.

The lawsuit alleges Silberman knew the officers had been ordered to stay inside but nevertheless pursued the attempted kidnapping charges against Lucero and the other leaders, and left that detail out of the affidavit he filed against the group.

Frank also alleges that Silberman lied while under oath on the witness stand by denying that he’d interviewed a witness whose account bolstered Lucero’s defense.

“At the behest of his superiors at APD, Detective Silberman did everything within his power to inflict as much pain as possible on Ms. Lucero and her fellow protest leaders for daring to shine a light on some of the most horrific police misconduct our country has seen in recent decades,” the lawsuit reads.

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