Nearing two years after his death, a Colorado grand jury indicted three police officers and two paramedics in the death of Elijah McClain.
“We’re here today because Elijah McClain is not here and he should be,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said during Wednesday’s announcement. “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.”
On August 24, 2019, McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, was stopped by police while walking home from a convenience store near his home in Aurora, Colorado. It was a warm day, but McClain was wearing a ski mask due to an underlying blood condition. A passerby called 911 to report “strange” behavior. After police stopped McClain, they ended up placing him in a carotid hold and injecting him with the powerful sedative ketamine.
McClain was shot with twice the usual amount of ketamine per his weight, according to the indictment. Paramedics said he was suffering from the controversial diagnosis of “excited delirium.” He ended up going into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and never regained consciousness. He was pronounced brain dead on August 27, according to the indictment.
During the altercation with the police, McClain could be heard apologizing to the officers for vomiting after being choked. He repeatedly said he doesn’t like to be touched. “I’m an introvert,” McClain could be heard saying to officers in the body-worn camera footage. “I was just going home. I don’t have a gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t even kill flies. I don’t even eat meat. I’m just different,” he said.
As part of a 32-count indictment, Aurora police officers Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema, former police officer Jason Rosenblatt, and Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were each indicted on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
According to Aurora’s City Charter, police officers and firefighters indicted on a felony charge are immediately and indefinitely suspended without pay, pending the outcome of the criminal case, Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly noted in a statement.
Roedema and Rosenblatt were also indicted on one count of assault and one count of crime of violence. Cooper and Cichuniec were each indicted on three counts of assault and six counts of crime of violence.
In October of 2019, Rosenblatt was among a group of officers who posed for selfies that mocked the chokehold used on McClain near a memorial in his honor. He and two other officers were subsequently fired and other officers resigned.
Family and friends described McClain as a sensitive massage therapist, animal lover, and musician who lived in his own world. One of his massage therapy clients said he “had a child-like spirit who lived in his own little world. He just was who he was.”
Prosecutors initially declined to press charges, citing a lack of evidence. However, following the renewed calls for social justice in the wake of the death of George Floyd and others, interest in McClain’s case grew, which spurred Gov. Jared Polis to re-examine the case last year.
“This week marks the two-year anniversary of Elijah’s tragic death, and we know his family mourns him,” stated Aurora City Manager Twombly. “It brought back painful memories for me like it did for scores of Aurora residents and other people across the country. We must remember that no civil or criminal investigation will erase the pain and heartbreak of Elijah’s loss.”
The Aurora police chief and fire chief also released statements offering condolences to the McClain family. The family has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Aurora, police department, and paramedics.
Elijah’s mother Sheneen McClain told the Colorado Sun that she was “grateful” for the indictment. “I’ve been crying just thinking about the process that it’s took after two years to get this report.
“I’m not just a crazy mom trying to fight a fight that’s not worthy,” Sheneen McClain said. “This is a worthy fight for my son’s justice.”