Sep 1, 2021 - Politics

3 officers, 2 paramedics charged in connection with death of Elijah McClain

Sheneen McClain, center, mother of Elijah McClain, speaks during a press conference in front of the Aurora Municipal Center on Oct. 1, 2019.

Sheneen McClain, center, mother of Elijah McClain, speaks in Oct. 1, 2019, surrounded by family, friends and legal counsel. Photo: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A Colorado grand jury returned a 32-count indictment against police officers and paramedics in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man.

Driving the news: The grand jury charged each of the three officers and two paramedics with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, the state’s attorney general announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: McClain's death drew renewed attention and a national profile last summer as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in the wake of George Floyd's May 2020 murder.

  • Aurora police had no legal basis to stop McClain, an investigation found, and their use of a chokehold later led state lawmakers to ban law enforcement from using the restraint technique.

Catch up quick: McClain, a massage therapist, pleaded with officers to release him after being stopped and restrained without legal cause, telling them, "Let go of me. I am an introvert. Please respect my boundaries that I am speaking."

  • Officers put McClain in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with 500 milligrams of ketamine in suburban Denver before he suffered cardiac arrest and was eventually declared brain dead.
  • He was taken off life support on Aug. 30, 2019.

Between the lines: The grand jury's decision, finalized Aug. 26, came 14 months after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis called for state Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate the death and appointed Weiser as a special prosecutor.

  • The unprecedented move came after the local district attorney reviewed the case and determined no charges could be filed against the police or paramedics.
  • In January, Weiser tasked the Denver-based grand jury with examining the case. He has faced increasing pressure in recent weeks to issue a report.

What they’re saying: Weiser acknowledged the difficult task ahead. "Make no mistake, we recognize that this case will be difficult to prosecute," he said at a briefing. "These types of cases always are."

  • McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, told the Colorado Sun that she's "grateful that my son is going to have his justice."
  • The Aurora police association's board of directors issued a statement that said its officers "did nothing wrong" and argued that "there is no evidence that APD officers caused his death."

Details: The Aurora police officers indicted are Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt, who was fired from the department a year ago.

  • In addition to the manslaughter and homicide counts, Roedema and Rosenblatt each face a charge of second-degree assault and one count of violence related to the assault.
  • The two paramedics face three second-degree assault charges related to the ketamine dose and two counts of violence related to the assault.

What’s next: A separate investigation into the Aurora police and fire department’s practices remains ongoing, the attorney general said.

  • Federal authorities also have said they are looking at the matter.

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