A temporary mural of Elijah McClain painted on a building in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Evans)
Three Aurora police officers and two paramedics each face charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, among other charges, in the death of Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced Wednesday during a news conference.
The indictments, 32 in all, were issued by a Colorado grand jury that had investigated for more than half a year and finished its work last week, Weiser said.
The officers are Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema. The paramedics are Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec.
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“We’re here today, because Elijah McClain is not here, and he should be,” Weiser said. “He was a son, a nephew, a brother, and a friend. 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 live without him. His death is a loss to all of us. Elijah McClain’s memory will live on as a blessing to all of us.”
McClain died days after an encounter with Aurora Police Department officers while walking home from a convenience store on Aug. 24, 2019. After being violently detained by the officers, McClain was given a large dose of ketamine without being evaluated by paramedics. He soon suffered cardiac arrest and days later was taken off life support. He was suspected of no crime.
His death became a flashpoint last summer in Colorado after another Black man, George Floyd, was murdered by Minneapolis police.
Woodyard, Rosenblatt and Roedema in 2019 had been cleared of all criminal wrongdoing by then-District Attorney Dave Young in the 17th Judicial District. Rosenblatt was fired from the force last year after he responded “ha ha” to a photograph of other Aurora police officers reenacting a chokehold at the site of McClain’s arrest.
Last summer, Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order appointing Weiser to reexamine the case and file charges if necessary. “Elijah McClain should be alive today,” Polis said in a statement at the time, “and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern.” Soon thereafter Weiser announced his office was conducting a civil “pattern-or-practice” investigation into the Aurora Police Department. That investigation is ongoing.
In February, the city of Aurora released a 157-page independent report detailing how Aurora police officers and paramedics mishandled the encounter that led to McClain’s death at every critical point, including detaining him in the first place.
The charges against the five defendants were to be filed in Adams County district court, Weiser said.
“Elijah McClain should be alive today,” state Rep. Leslie Herod, who has been at the vanguard of criminal justice reform in Colorado, said in a statement. “Justice is moving forward because the people of Colorado elevated Elijah’s story to the entire world and demanded change … By bringing these charges — which include using ketamine as a deadly weapon — advancing criminal justice reforms and passing measures to hold law enforcement accountable, Colorado is making strides to advance the rule of law, improve trust in peace officers and ensure that those who break the law are held accountable.”
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