Nov 6, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Third officer charged in Elijah McClain's death found not guilty

A mural of Elijah McClain, painted by Thomas "Detour" Evans, painted on the Epic Brewing building in Denver in June 2020. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A jury found a Colorado police officer not guilty Monday in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.

Driving the news: Aurora officer Nathan Woodyard — who was the first on scene and put McClain in a neck hold that left him temporarily unconscious — was found not guilty on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

Why it matters: Among the three officers charged in McClain's killing, Woodyard is the second to be acquitted for their use of force the night of Aug. 24, 2019, after another jury delivered a split decision in October.

Plus: The trials are testing the strength of state prosecutors' cases against the five first responders charged in McClain's death.

Details: If convicted, he would have faced up to six years in prison, the Denver Post reports.

  • The jury took less than two days to reach their verdict.

The big picture: Over the nearly three-week trial, state prosecutors called in medical and criminal justice experts to convince the jury that Woodyard's neck hold contributed to McClain's death. The move, known as a carotid control hold, has since been banned in Colorado and many states across the country.

  • State prosecutors also argued that the officer failed to follow his training and render appropriate aid when McClain was choking on his vomit.
  • Woodyard's defense attorneys blamed McClain's death on the injection of ketamine — the powerful sedative paramedics administered — and insisted Woodyard followed protocol.
  • The defense also insisted that he feared for his life after another responding officer said McClain attempted to grab one of their guns.

What they're saying: Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said during a press conference Monday afternoon the verdict was not what his office sought, but he accepted the outcome.

  • "We remain undeterred in our pursuit of accountability and justice for Elijah McClain," Weiser said.

What's next: Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper, the two paramedics involved in administering the ketamine, will face trial later in November. They have pleaded not guilty.

Flashback: An amended autopsy report released in 2022 determined McClain's death was due to complications from administration of the sedative ketamine after forcible restraint.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from Colorado's attorney general.

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