Updated Sep 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Amended autopsy: Elijah McClain died from sedative after forcible restraint

Photo of a person's hand held to her chest as she wears a T-shirt with Elijah McClain's picture on it
Sheneen McClain stands at the site where her son Elijah was killed in Aurora, Colorado, two years after his death on Aug. 18, 2021. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

An amended autopsy report made public Friday has changed the cause of death for Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after police officers put him in a chokehold in 2019, from "undetermined" to complications from administration of the sedative ketamine after forcible restraint.

The big picture: Nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020 renewed attention on McClain's death. Though the Aurora, Colorado police department found no policy violations in an earlier investigation, an independent probe concluded that officers had no legal basis to stop, frisk or use a chokehold on McClain.

Catch up quick: Three police officers responding to a call about a suspicious person stopped and restrained McClain, who was walking home from a convenience store on Aug. 24, 2019.

  • The officers put him in a chokehold, and paramedics administered 500 milligrams of ketamine.
  • But limited video and audio from body worn cameras "reveal Mr. McClain surrounded by officers, all larger than he, crying out in pain, apologizing, explaining himself, and pleading with the officers," according to the independent investigation.
  • McClain, who was a massage therapist, suffered cardiac arrest and was eventually declared brain dead and taken off life support. The original autopsy report, signed Nov. 7, 2019, stated that the cause and manner of death were "undetermined."

What he's saying: Stephen Cina, who performs autopsies for Adams County, wrote in the amended report that he has changed the cause of death after gaining access to new information, including extensive body camera footage, witness statements and additional records.

  • When he performed the original autopsy in 2019, he requested the materials but didn't receive them in full, he said. New evidence was presented through a statewide grand jury investigation, leading Cina to file the amended report on July 1, 2021.
  • "Simply put, this dosage of ketamine was too much for this individual and it resulted in an overdose … I believe that Mr. McClain would most likely be alive but for the administration of ketamine."
  • He added, however, that he has "seen no evidence that injuries inflicted by the police contributed to death."
  • McClain's manner of death remains "undetermined."

Driving the news: The amended report was made public Friday after a judge ordered the Adams County Coroner to release a copy. News organizations sued for the report after the county coroner denied CPR News' public records request.

The big picture: The Colorado grand jury returned a 32-count indictment after its investigation, charging each of the three officers and two paramedics with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

  • The indictment noted that an unnamed forensic pathologist "opined that the cause of death for Mr. McClain was complications following acute ketamine administration during violent subdual and restraint by law enforcement and emergency response personnel, and the manner of death was homicide."
  • One of the officers, Jason Rosenblatt, was later fired for his involvement in a photo re-enacting the chokehold used on McClain, CBS News reports.
  • Officers Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema and paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper are currently on unpaid leave, per CPR News.

Worth noting: McClain's family has sued the police department and paramedics in federal court.

What's next: Their arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 4.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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