Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser on Wednesday announced a grand jury has brought charges against three police officers and two paramedics for the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain.
McClain suffered a cardiac arrest and was hospitalized following a brutal encounter with Aurora police officers on August 24, 2019, Face2Face Africa reported at the time. The deceased Black man, who was headed home when he was confronted by the officers, was put in a carotid hold before he was injected with ketamine. The incident left him brain dead and he was taken off life support days later.
According to CNN, the Aurora Police officers named in the indictment are Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard, while the paramedics are Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec. Jason Rosenblatt, a former police officer, also faces charges in connection with McClain’s death. The five suspects have each been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
Besides that, Roedema and Rosenblatt have each been charged with one count of assault and one count of crime of violence, while Cooper and Cichuniec each face three counts of assault and six counts of crime of violence.
“We’re here today because Elijah McClain is not here and he should be,” Weiser said at Wednesday’s news conference. “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.”
Following McClain’s death, prosecutors had initially refused to bring charges against the officers involved. Adams County District Attorney Dave Young in 2019 claimed prosecutors did not have evidence to determine the officers were responsible for McClain’s death or if they used excessive force.
But the calls for authorities to look into the death of the Black man were reinvigorated following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter protests that ensued. Gov. Jared Polis eventually announced McClain’s case was going to be reopened in the wake of protests in Aurora and an online petition that was launched. A grand jury was subsequently formed in January to examine the case, CNN reported.
And though it is reportedly unusual for officers to be criminally charged and convicted for in-custody deaths involving Black people, Weiser said that wouldn’t deter them from pursuing justice for McClain.
“Make no mistake, we recognize that this case will be difficult to prosecute. These types of cases always are,” he said. “Our goal is to seek justice for Elijah McClain, for his family and friends and for our state. In so doing, we advance the rule of law and our commitment that everyone is accountable and equal under the law.”
The news of the indictment was welcomed by McClain’s family. The deceased Black man’s mother, Sheneen McClain, told CNN she “started crying [after the announcement] because it’s been two years.”
“It’s been a long journey, you know, and it’s overwhelming. I’m still processing it, you know, because this is one of those things that has never really been done and is being done right here because of my son, so it’s overwhelming,” she added.
In a statement, McClain’s father also said: “Nothing will bring back my son, but I am thankful that his killers will finally be held accountable.”
The officers named in the indictment have since been placed on indefinite suspension without pay pending the outcome of the case.
According to The Denver Post, the August 2019 confrontation occurred after the Aurora police received a call about a suspicious person wearing a ski mask and waving at people around Billings Street near East Colfax Avenue.
In a police news release, it was claimed McClain refused to comply with orders when officers arrived at the scene, resulting in them having to forcefully restrain him as he fought back. However, McClain’s sister, Samara McClain, said he usually wore ski masks when outside because he was suffering from anemia and had to keep warm.
“This was a case of police brutality of someone so sweet,” she told The Denver Post at the time her brother was hospitalized. “He doesn’t deserve this. He shouldn’t be in a hospital.” She also added he was simply going to the store to buy tea for his cousin. “The next thing you know he was in the hospital,” she said.
CCTV footage of what transpired before the police were involved shows McClain, who’s in a ski mask, queuing in the store and waiting to be attended to. Other customers in the video do not appear to be intimated by him.
In an interview with FOX 31 Denver, the store clerk said the mask didn’t make her uncomfortable as she had seen it before.
“I wasn’t nervous because I knew who he was, and when he came in he wasn’t threatening, you know, most people who come in with ski masks are gonna be threatening,” she said. “He wasn’t threatening at all. He was telling everybody hello, he asked everybody how their day was and he said goodbye.”
According to the police news release, the officers who responded to the scene had to call an ambulance and the Aurora Fire Rescue as a result of the “level of physical force applied while restraining the subject and his agitated mental state” in the aftermath of the incident. The release added that he was subsequently given a “standard medication routinely utilized to reduce agitation” by the paramedics.
Per CNN, the indictment states that the paramedics who injected McClain with the ketamine drug failed to check his vital signs or communicate with him before diagnosing him with “excited delirium” – a condition characterized by violent agitation. The paramedics did not also touch him prior to the diagnosis.
The ketamine dosage that was injected into McClain’s system was also based on an inaccurate estimation of him weighing 200 pounds. His actual weight was 143 pounds.