In this June 27, 2020, file photo, demonstrators carry a giant placard during a rally and march over the death of Elijah McClain outside the police department in Aurora, Colo. Colorado’s attorney general said Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 that a grand jury indicted three officers and two paramedics in the death of Elijah McClain, a Black man who was put in a chokehold and injected with a powerful sedative two years ago in suburban Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
By Alexis Taylor, Special to the AFRO
The wheels of justice are slowly beginning to turn two years after Aurora paramedics injected ketamine into Elijah McClain’s body, stopping the 23-year-old’s heart on a Colorado street.
This week, a statewide jury indicted Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, along with Aurora Police officers Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard for McClain’s death. Former Aurora officer, Jason Rosenblatt, was also charged.
“Our goal is to seek justice for Elijah McClain, for his family and friends, and for our State,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, in a press statement. “In so doing, we advance the rule of law and the commitment that everyone is accountable and equal under the law.”
In June 2020 Gov. Jared Polis ordered Weiser to investigate as a special prosecutor after 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young said there was insufficient evidence of a crime.
Special prosecutor Weisner decided to call a grand jury “to compel testimony from witnesses” and “require production of documents” that would “otherwise be unavailable.”
All five defendants received one count of manslaughter and one count of criminally negligent homicide. Officers Roedema and Rosenblatt each also had one crime of violence charge added to one count of assault for intending and actually causing serious bodily harm to McClain.
Paramedics Cooper and Cichuniec each picked up two crime of violence charges for each of the three assault charges levied against them for using a deadly weapon- ketamine- without consent and with the intention to cause bodily harm.
The jury handed down a total of 32 charges to three law enforcement officials and two paramedics present that day.
“I know this has been a long-awaited decision for Ms. McClain and her family,” said Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson in a statement about the charges. “This tragedy will forever be imprinted on our community. We continue to offer our condolences for the loss of Elijah, and we will continue to cooperate with the judicial process.”
According to the grand jury indictment, the death of McClain began like the police-involved deaths of Black men: he was suspicious.
A 911 phone call placed by an Aurora driver sealed McClain’s fate after they – in passing- deemed him suspicious by watching him use the sidewalk. When police arrived the suspicion grew. Woodyard, a former marine, believed the convenience store bag McClain was holding made him questionable.
The indictment states that “the stop quickly turned physical.”
Officer Roedema, also a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps, ripped the bag full of iced tea cans from McClains hands and a struggle ensued. Roedema said McClain reached for Rosenblatt’s gun even though Rosenblatt later “stated that he did not feel any contact with his service weapon.”
The officers began taking turns performing chokeholds on McClain as he begged them to breathe, told them he loved them and tried to explain that he was autistic and meant no harm.
In response to his cries, the indictment states that “Roedema applied, and directed other officers who responded to apply, pain compliance techniques to the handcuffed Mr. Mclain.”
Roedema and Woodyard had taken in-service training on carotid choke holds the week before interacting with McClain on Aug.24. Rosenblatt encountered McClain within 24-hours of completing the same in-service training. In fact, Woodyard had been an arrest control instructor for two months when he began restricting oxygen to McClain’s brain.
When paramedics Cooper and Cichuniec arrived, the violinist and animal-lover was diagnosed with excited delirium within two minutes. Cooper was in charge of medical decisions, but Cichuniec ordered a shot of ketamine from the Falck Ambulance team hired to assist Aurora paramedics.
Without speaking to McClain, taking his vitals or physically examining him, paramedics looked at McClain’s restrained 143-pound body and saw a 200-pound man. Though standing medical directives show that a 200 pound man should only receive 453 mg of ketamine, Cooper injected McClain with the full 500 mg of ketamine in the syringe provided by Falck Ambulance.
The indictment states that a more accurate dosage for McClains actual weight “should have been closer to 325 mg of ketamine.” McClain was placed on a gurney moments after being sedated and according to the indictment, “he never regained consciousness.”
Though the five defendants have been charged, the Office of the Attorney General continues to investigate.
“In a separate civil investigation, my department is investigating whether the City of Aurora, specifically the Aurora Police and Fire Departments, have a pattern and practice of violating the civil rights of its community members,” said Weisner in his statement. “That matter is ongoing. We will announce our findings when that investigation is concluded.”
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