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Elijah McClain Died From a Ketamine Injection During a Police Stop. Finally, 2 Officers Face Trial

Elijah McClain Died From a Ketamine Injection During a Police Stop. Finally, 2 Officers Face Trial

Four years after the death of an unarmed 23-year-old Black man, the police officers involved are facing trial.

Video Source: Advocate Channel

(CNN) — More than four years since Elijah McClain, an unarmed 23-year-old Black man, died after an encounter with police in Aurora, Colorado, two of the officers who arrested him are standing trial on charges of manslaughter, with opening statements expected to begin Wednesday.

Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt face charges of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault causing serious bodily injury in connection with McClain’s death. They have pleaded not guilty. Rosenblatt was fired by the police department in 2020 and Roedema remains suspended.

Jury selection in the case should wrap up Wednesday morning and opening statements are expected to begin in the afternoon, Judge Mark Warner said Tuesday. The jury will have 14 members, including 12 primary and two alternate jurors.

The case stems from the arrest of McClain on August 24, 2019, when officers responded to a call about a “suspicious person” wearing a ski mask, according to the indictment. The officers confronted McClain, a massage therapist, musician and animal lover, who was walking home from a convenience store carrying a plastic bag with iced tea.

In a disturbing interaction captured on body-camera footage, police wrestled McClain to the ground and placed him in a carotid hold, and paramedics later injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine.

He suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital and was pronounced dead three days later.

Shortly afterward, Adams County District Attorney Dave Young declined to bring criminal charges because he said prosecutors lacked evidence to prove the officers caused McClain’s death or that their force was unjustified. The original autopsy report listed the cause of McClain’s death as “undetermined.”

However, McClain’s death was one of several cases that received renewed scrutiny following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the spring of 2020, sparking massive protests across the country. In June 2020, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced a reexamination of McClain’s death.

In 2021, a grand jury indicted three police officers and two paramedics involved in the McClain case. They face 32 counts in total, including reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault. All five have pleaded not guilty.

The five individuals are set to be tried in three separate cases, with the trial of Roedema and Rosenblatt coming first.

Officer Nathan Woodyard is scheduled to be tried individually in mid-October, and the paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec are set to have a joint trial at the end of November.

The cause of death was also updated to “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint,” Adams County Chief Coroner Monica Broncucia-Jordan announced last September.

The coroner’s office received body camera footage, witness statements and additional records that were part of a grand jury investigation and not available before the autopsy was performed, pathologist Dr. Stephen Cina wrote in the amended autopsy report.

What happened during the arrest

Body camera footage and several extensive investigations reveal much of the interaction between McClain and the officers and paramedics.

“I’m an introvert,” McClain tells the officers in video recorded by body-worn cameras. “Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”

Body camera video shows McClain telling officers he was trying to stop his music to listen to them, and they begin to arrest him. One officer then tells another, “He just grabbed your gun, dude.” One of the officers later wrestled McClain to the ground. Police said McClain resisted and he was placed into a carotid hold, or chokehold, the indictment says.

Paramedics arrived at the scene and diagnosed McClain with “excited delirium,” a controversial diagnosis that describes violent agitation, and administered the powerful sedative ketamine.

They then injected McClain with a dose of ketamine based on an estimate that he was 200 pounds; he in fact weighed 143 pounds, according to the indictment.

“By the time he was placed on the gurney, Mr. McClain appeared unconscious, had no muscle tone, was limp, and had visible vomit coming from his nose and mouth,” the indictment says. “(Officer) Roedema said he heard Mr. McClain snoring, which can be a sign of a ketamine overdose.”

The paramedics found he had no pulse and was not breathing and performed CPR, the indictment states. He never regained consciousness and was declared brain-dead on August 27, the indictment states. His life support was then removed and he became an organ donor.

In 2021, the city settled a civil rights lawsuit with the McClain family for $15 million, and the Aurora police and fire departments agreed to a consent decree to address a pattern of racial bias found by a state investigation.


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