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Elijah McClain: Second Police Officer Acquitted in Killing of Unarmed Black Man

Protests in Aurora Colorado over the death of Elijah McClain
photo-denver / Shutterstock

AURORA, COLORADO - JUNE 27, 2020: Demonstrations march near the Aurora Municipal Center to demand justice for Elijah McClain killed by Aurora police in 2019

Two of the three officers brought to trial for the 2019 killing of Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black massage therapist, have been acquitted.

A Denver-area police officer has been acquitted in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.

McClain, a massage therapist, was killed after he was put in a neck hold by several officers and pinned to the ground, before later being injected with a high overdose of Ketamine. He went into cardiac arrest while en route to the hospital and died three days later.

McClain was not accused of committing a crime and was unarmed. In the body camera video, 23-year-old McClain can be heard pleading, “I’m an introvert and I’m different.”

Elijah McClain trial

Aurora officer Nathan Woodyard was found not guilty of homicide and manslaughter Monday. Woodyard is the third officer to stand trial for McClain’s death. The others returned differing verdicts, with one being convicted of homicide and third-degree assault, and the other officer being acquitted.

Woodyard was the only of the three officers to take the stand during his trial. He testified, via PBS, that he put McClain in the neck hold as he feared for his life after hearing McClain say, “I intend to take my power back” and another officer say, “He just grabbed your gun, dude.”

Woodyard’s defense attorneys stressed that he was not there when McClain’s condition deteriorated, and that he can be seen stepping away for part of the confrontation in the police body camera video shown to jurors.

None of the officers were initially brought to trial for McClain's death, until Colorado Gov. Jared Polis ordered Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office to take another look at the case in 2020. The officers and paramedics involved were indicted by a grand jury in 2021. The two paramedics are set to stand trial later this month.

In Colorado, paramedics are not instructed not to give Ketamine to people who are suspected of having a condition known as excited delirium, which was described in a now-withdrawn emergency physicians’ report as manifesting symptoms that include increased strength. According to PBS, critics have called the condition "unscientific and rooted in racism."

The city of Aurora agreed to pay $15 million to McClain’s parents in 2021 as settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

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Kylie Werner