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The police officers and paramedics who stopped 23-year-old Elijah McClain and administered a fatal dose of ketamine to the unarmed Black man are being charged with homicide, more than two years after his death.
A grand jury indicted three Aurora, Colorado, police officers and two paramedics on a total of 32 counts Wednesday afternoon in a rare move to hold them accountable for acts while on duty. Every defendant is facing one count of criminally negligent homicide and a count of manslaughter, according to Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, while assault charges vary among those involved in McClain’s death.
“Our goal is to seek justice for Elijah McClain, for his family and his friends, and for our state,” Weiser said Wednesday.
On August 24, 2019, McClain was walking home from work wearing a ski mask he wore to keep himself warm, because he was anemic. After a resident called police because McClain looked “suspicious,” Aurora police officers Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema, and Jason Rosenblatt pulled up and told the young Black man to stop. But McClain kept walking because he had headphones on at the time of the verbal command, according to body camera footage.
The cops then accused him of resisting, tackled him to the ground, and began to handcuff him. At one point they even placed him in a chokehold, a maneuver now banned by most police departments after the 2014 death of Eric Garner in New York. McClain fainted and vomited during the arrest.
“I was just going home,” McClain can be heard saying on body camera footage during the struggle. “I’m just different, I’m just different, that’s all, that’s all I was doing. I’m so sorry.”
Paramedics were called to the scene of McClain’s arrest by police after they determined he was suffering from “excited delirium,” a controversial state of agitation often diagnosed by cops, which later appeared on the Black man’s death certificate. The paramedics then injected McClain with ketamine, which is often used as an anesthetic treatment.
But McClain went into cardiac arrest as they transported him to the hospital and was declared brain-dead on August 27. He was taken off life support three days later.
On top of the homicide charge, two of the police officers who arrested McClain, Roedema and Rosenblatt, also face an additional charge of second-degree assault with intent to cause bodily injury and one count each of a crime of violence related to the assault charge.
And both paramedics who later arrived on the scene, Cooper and Cichuniec, each face second-degree assault with intent to cause bodily injury, second-degree assault for recklessly causing bodily injury by means of a deadly weapon (ketamine), second-degree assault for a purpose other than lawful medical treatment, and one count of a crime of violence.
Their indictment comes just over two years after McClain’s death, which combined with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others helped usher in a new era of scrutiny and accountability in American policing.
Weiser was assigned to investigate McClain’s death last year, but COVID-19 restrictions continued to delay the meeting of the grand jury, Weiser said Wednesday. During that time, questions into how Aurora officers handled their encounter with the Black man continued, and an independent investigation in February determined the cops had no reason to place him in a chokehold in the first place.
The grand jury made their decision last Thursday, but Weiser said his office delayed an announcement to the public to inform McClain’s family first.
“We’re here today because Elijah McClain is not here, and he should be,” he said. “He was a son, a nephew, a brother, a friend. When he died, he was only 23 years old. He had his whole life ahead of him. His family and his friends must now go on and live without him.”
Last month, Weiser announced his department is currently looking into whether the Aurora fire and police departments have a pattern of violating the civil rights of its community members. The Aurora police department has been involved in several violent arrests that have received national attention.
In July, an officer was charged with several crimes, including assault and official misconduct, for pistol-whipping and choking an unarmed man. In August 2020, Aurora officers forced a family of young Black girls and their older relative out of a vehicle at gunpoint and handcuffed them after mistaking their van for a stolen vehicle.