Officers, medics plead not guilty in death of Elijah McClain, who was injected with ketamine while handcuffed

BRIGHTON, Colo. — Two police officers, two paramedics and a former police officer pleaded not guilty Friday in the killing of Elijah McClain, 23, a Black man who died after he was placed in a chokehold and given a powerful sedative while in handcuffs.

Officers Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema of the Aurora Police Department in Aurora, Colorado; former Aurora police officer Jason Rosenblatt; and Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were charged with one count each of manslaughter and one count each of criminally negligent homicide as outlined in a 32-count indictment.

The five will be tried in three separate trials later this year in Adams County District Court.

Cooper and Cichuniec will be tried together, as will Roedema and Rosenblatt. Woodyard, who placed McClain in a chokehold, forcing him into unconsciousness, will be tried alone.

The trials come more than three years after McClain’s death, which prompted months of protests that dovetailed with national demonstrations demanding systemic changes in police procedures following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Police stopped McClain, who was never charged or accused of any wrongdoing, in the Denver suburb of Aurora on Aug. 24, 2019, after he bought an iced tea from a corner store.

That night, three Aurora police officers responded to a report of a suspicious person wearing a mask and waving his arms.

McClain, a massage therapist, was wearing a ski mask and typically did so because of a blood condition that made him feel cold, his family has said.

Police body camera video released later showed officers ordering McClain to stop.

He responded that he was an introvert and to “please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.” After questioning McClain, the officers grabbed him.

One of them said he believed McClain had reached for a holstered gun, and McClain was brought to the ground.

Aurora police have said McClain “resisted contact, a struggle ensued, and he was taken into custody.”

Authorities said officers applied a carotid control hold on McClain, a type of chokehold meant to restrict blood to the brain to render a person unconscious.

Paramedics were called to the scene, and they injected McClain with the sedative ketamine while handcuffed, and police video showed him writhing on the ground saying, “I can’t breathe, please,” and vomiting.

An amended autopsy report released by the county coroner in September 2022 revealed McClain had died from a ketamine injection after being forcibly restrained.

“I believe this tragic fatality is most likely the result of ketamine toxicity,” the coroner said in the report, adding McClain received a higher dosage than someone should have for his weight. “Simply put, this dosage of ketamine was too much for this individual and it resulted in an overdose.”