An Indictment Accuses Three Cops and Two Paramedics of Killing Elijah McClain With a Cascade of Legal, Tactical, and Medical Errors
On a Saturday night in August 2019, Elijah McClain was walking home from an Aurora, Colorado, convenience store, where he had just bought three cans of iced tea, when he was accosted by police, who ultimately killed him. McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist, could not understand what he had done to provoke this confrontation—which is not surprising, because there was no legal justification for stopping, frisking, arresting, or assaulting him.
Yesterday, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced that a statewide grand jury had indicted three officers and two paramedics who were involved in this baffling incident. The officers (Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema) and paramedics (Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec) face a total of 32 charges, including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and second-degree assault.
“We have the solemn duty to prosecute this case and recognize that it will be difficult to prosecute—these types of cases always are,” Weiser 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 the commitment that everyone is accountable and equal under the law.”
The rule of law was violated from the moment when Woodyard, responding to a 911 call from a teenager who thought McClain “look[ed] sketchy,” ordered McClain to stop. McClain, who was listening to music on earbuds, evidently did not hear Woodyard, and the situation immediately escalated.
Woodyard grabbed McClain, and he and Rosenblatt forced him to a grassy area, where they tackled him, applied a “carotid control” twice, handcuffed him, and pinned him to the ground as he temporarily lost consciousness, repeatedly vomited, and repeatedly complained that they were hurting him and that he could not breathe. Roedema joined the assault, using a “bar hammer lock,” which involved pulling McClain’s arm behind his back. Roedema later said he “cranked pretty hard” on McClain’s shoulder and heard it pop three times. In response to what they perceived as “excited delirium,” Cooper and Cichuniec, the paramedics, injected McClain with an overdose of the anesthetic ketamine.
By the end of this encounter, McClain had no pulse and had to be resuscitated in the ambulance with an injection of epinephrine. He never regained consciousness, and he was declared brain dead three days later. According to the indictment, McClain “suffered hypoxia, cerebral hypoxia, hypoxemia, metabolic acidosis, aspiration, [and] respiratory arrest.” The Adams County Coroner’s Office said the cause of McClain’s death was “undetermined” but added “it may be a homicide if the actions of officers led to his death.” A forensic pathologist cited in the indictment concluded that McClain died due to complications from his violent treatment and the ketamine. He said the manner of death was homicide.
Now let’s go back to the beginning of the encounter. What grounds did Woodyard and the other officers have for stopping McClain, let alone violently subduing him?
Despite the warm weather, McClain was wearing sweat pants, a jacket, a knit cap, and a ski mask, reportedly because he had anemia, one symptom of which is cold extremities. The 911 caller thought the ski mask was suspicious. He also reported that McClain was making “all these kinds of signs” with his hands. The caller added that “he might be a good person or a bad person.” He said no one was in danger and he had not seen any weapons.
In a report issued last February, an independent panel of legal, law enforcement, and medical experts concluded that none of this amounted to “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity, the standard for an involuntary street
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