Many police officers and paramedics entered a not-guilty plea on Friday to charges related to their alleged involvement in the death of a 23-year-old Black man who was brutally held and given a ketamine injection.
In 2021, a state grand jury indicted them on charges including criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter. Elijah McClain passed away two years prior after being stopped while crossing the street in Aurora, a Denver suburb. A 911 caller had reported a “sketchy” individual.
According to a revised postmortem report issued last year, McClain would have likely survived if ketamine hadn’t been given to him at a dose that was too high for someone his stature. However, McClain’s cause of death was still recorded as unknown and not a homicide.
The usage of ketamine has come under renewed investigation due to McClain’s passing, which prompted Colorado’s health agency to adopt a rule restricting when emergency personnel can use it.
Trials of paramedics, according to experts in emergency medicine, are uncommon. However, two paramedics in Illinois have been charged with murder for strapping a Black man facedown on a stretcher after police called for an ambulance last month.
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At a hearing in the Brighton, Colorado, suburb of Denver, police officers Randy Roedema, Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, fire department paramedic Jeremy Cooper, and Lt. Peter Cichuniec entered not-guilty pleas. Other than stating that they were aware of their rights, they remained silent during the session.
Family members and other supporters crowded the small courtroom during a meeting addressing motion hearings and setting trial dates. The first of three separate trials for cops Roedema and Rosenblatt is scheduled to start in July after a judge decided to prepare them. August is the planned date for Cooper and Cichuniec’s subsequent trial. September is the date chosen for Woodyard’s trial.
Megan Downing, the attorney defending Woodyard, refuses to respond to the accusations since any denial would be included in the grand jury’s confidential records. The other defendants’ attorneys walked out of court without saying anything.
After Democratic Governor Jared Polis instructed Attorney General Phil Weiser to launch a criminal inquiry into the situation, a grand jury indicted them. As demonstrations gathered over the 2020 murder of George Floyd, there had been a resurgence in interest in McClain’s passing. The city of Aurora consented to pay $15 million to resolve a lawsuit McClain’s parents filed in 2021.
McClain, a masseuse, was unarmed and had never been charged with a crime. Before the epidemic made facial coverings prevalent, the indictment claims that he was seen wearing a ski mask while heading home from a grocery store in 2019 after purchasing an iced drink.
After being placed in a chokehold by cops, McClain initially lost consciousness as the confrontation soon heated up. Three officers had McClain shackled on the ground as he moaned he couldn’t breathe and repeatedly puked. According to relatives, McClain wore the mask because anemia made him cold.
After a former district attorney said he was unable to press charges because an autopsy could not reveal how McClain died, Polis commissioned the state probe. His passing influenced the passage of a comprehensive police accountability law in Colorado, as well as rules prohibiting chokeholds and limiting the use of the anesthetic ketamine.
According to the revised autopsy report made public in September, McClain passed away due to complications from taking ketamine after being detained against his will. Pathologist Dr. Stephen Cina wrote that he could not rule out that McClain’s exertion while being restrained by police caused changes in his blood chemistry, such as an increase in lactic acid, which contributed to his demise, but that there was no proof that police injuries were the direct cause of McClain’s demise. According to the indictment, McClain’s blood had too much acid and little oxygen.
According to family and friends, McClain was a sweet and compassionate introvert who volunteered to play his violin at an animal shelter to comfort cats. His sad phrase, “I’m just different,” which was recorded on police body camera video, severely underlined his bewilderment at what was happening.
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