A group of police officers and paramedics pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges stemming from their involvement in the death of an innocent unarmed 23-year-old Black man who was forcibly restrained and injected with a powerful sedative called ketamine.
Former Aurora Police officers Randy Roedema, Nathan Woodyard, and Jason Rosenblatt, along with fire department paramedic Jeremy Cooper and Lt. Peter Cichuniec all pleaded not guilty to charges contained in a 32-count indictment during a hearing in the Denver suburb of Brighton.
They did not speak during the hearing except to acknowledge that they understood their rights.
The former police and fire department officials were indicted by a state grand jury on manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and other charges in 2021.
Two years earlier, Elijah McClain died after being stopped while walking down the street in the Denver suburb of Aurora. A 911 caller had reported a man who seemed “sketchy.”
An amended autopsy report released last year concluded that McClain would have most likely survived but for the administration of a dose of ketamine that was higher than recommended for someone his size.
However, the manner of McClain’s death was still listed as undetermined, not a homicide.
McClain’s death fueled renewed scrutiny about the use of ketamine and led Colorado’s health department to issue a rule limiting when emergency workers can use it.
Experts in emergency medicine say prosecutions of paramedics are rare. However, in Illinois, two paramedics who strapped a Black man facedown on a stretcher after police requested an ambulance last month have been charged with murder.
A 23-year-old massage therapist, McClain was walking home from an Aurora convenience store when someone called 911 and said he was allegedly acting suspiciously.
McClain, who had a blood circulation disorder, was wearing a ski mask and was dressed warmly.
Woodyard, Rosenblatt, and Roedema arrived on the scene and began questioning McClain, but the exchange quickly escalated when McClain—who was not armed and had not committed a crime—tried to assert his rights.
McClain told the officers that he preferred personal space, according to a tape of the incident.
McClain didn’t stop when officers told him to, later telling them couldn’t hear them because he had his music on his headphones.
Officers claim McClain resisted arrest, and that he attempted to take one of their guns, body camera footage does not show any evidence that the victim tried reaching for their guns.
The officers eventually used carotid chokeholds on McClain twice as they attempted to subdue him.
McClain briefly passed out and vomited a couple of times. Such holds have since been banned statewide.
When paramedics arrived at the scene, they diagnosed McClain with “excited delirium” — meaning they thought he was exhibiting “superhuman” strength — without talking to him or physically touching him.
They injected McClain with 500 mg of ketamine — a dose that would have been slightly too much for a 200-pound person. McClain weighed 143 pounds.
Shortly after McClain was loaded into the ambulance, the paramedics discovered that he had no pulse and was not breathing. He went into cardiac arrest while being transported to the hospital.
The attorneys for Sheneen McClain, Elijah McClain’s mother, announced the family reached a settlement with the city of Aurora in October 2021.
The lawsuit stated in part: “Aurora’s brutality denied Elijah almost his entire adult life, a life of bright promise both for him and for the many people with whom he would have shared his light and compassion.”