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Grand Jury Indicts Police Officers and Paramedics in Death of Elijah McClain

A Colorado grand jury indicted three police officers and two paramedics involved in the tragic August 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was stopped by police while walking home from a store, put in a carotid hold, and then injected with ketamine, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced Wednesday.

Then-Aurora Police Department officers Randy Roedema, Jason Rosenblatt, and Nathan Woodyard, along with Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were each indicted on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide as part of a 32-count indictment.

In addition, Roedema and Rosenblatt were each indicted on one count of assault and one count of a crime of violence, and Cooper and Cichuniec were each indicted on three counts of assault and six counts of crime of violence.

Adams County District Attorney Dave Young had initially 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. But the case gained renewed attention last June after the police killings of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor led to mass protests under the Black Lives Matter movement. Spurred by those protests and a viral online petition, Gov. Jared Polis announced a reexamination of the case last year, and Weiser opened a grand jury investigation into the case in January.

McClain, a massage therapist, musician, and animal lover, was walking home from a convenience store with an iced tea on August 24, 2019, when he was confronted by three Aurora Police officers responding to a call about a person wearing a ski mask. The caller described the person as “sketchy” but added he “might be a good person or a bad person.” A police news release said McClain “resisted contact” with officers before a struggle ensued. “I’m an introvert,” McClain said in a video recorded by body cameras after officers confronted him. “Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”

“Relax,” an officer said at one point, “or I’m going to have to change this situation.”

Before an officer wrestled him to the ground, McClain told the officers he was trying to stop his music so that he could listen to them. During the struggle, one officer said, “He just grabbed your gun, dude.” One officer told McClain that he will “bring my dog out and he’s going to bite you” if McClain kept “messing around.” A letter from the Adams County District Attorney said an officer placed McClain in a carotid hold, which restricts blood flow to the brain. McClain briefly lost consciousness, the letter said, but continued struggling after officers released the hold.  The DA’s letter said paramedics arrived and administered ketamine, a powerful anesthetic. McClain was taken to a hospital but had a heart attack on the way. He was declared brain dead three days later, on August 27, the letter said. The autopsy conducted by the county coroner did not determine the cause of death but noted “intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery” were contributing factors. However, an investigative report released in February, paid for by the Aurora City Council, provides a more critical perspective on the police’s and paramedics’ decisions. The report criticized the officer’s decision to stop McClain in the first place, which it said “did not appear to be supported” by any officer’s reasonable suspicion that McClain was engaged in criminal activity.

“We’re here today because Elijah McClain is not here and he should be,” Attorney General Weiser said. “When he died he was only 23 years old. He had his whole life ahead of him and his family and his friends must now go on and must live without him.”

 



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