Officers, paramedics indicted on 32 counts in Elijah McClain’s death

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DENVER (KDVR) — Three officers and two paramedics have been indicted on 32 counts by a grand jury in the death of Elijah McClain. The charges come two years after the 23-year-old was placed in a carotid hold by Aurora officers – which deprives oxygen from a person’s brain – and injected with the powerful sedative ketamine by paramedics. McClain died six days after the incident.

A 157-page independent investigation outlined several missteps in the police department’s handling of the internal investigation into what happened. The report even suggested investigators designed questions to help exonerate the officers involved.

Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order in June 2020, assigning Attorney General Phil Weiser as a special prosecutor to investigate McClain’s death.

The investigations “need to be thorough. They need to inspire public confidence,” Polis said at the time. “I’m confident that the process is in place to do so with a special prosecutor. These are decisions that need to be well done rather than done too quickly.”

Weiser made the announcement on the indictment Wednesday morning. Each of the five defendants face one count of manslaughter and one count of criminally negligent homicide.

The indictment is against Aurora police officers Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema, former Aurora police officer Jason Rosenblatt, and Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec for their alleged conduct on the night of Aug. 24, 2019 that resulted in the death of McClain.

Weiser said officers Rodema and Rosenblatt also face a count of second-degree assault with the intent to cause bodily injury and caused serious bodily injury to McClain. Both also face one count of a crime of violence.

“I know this has been a long-awaited decision for Ms. McClain and her family. This tragedy will forever be imprinted on our community,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said. “We continue to offer our condolences for the loss of Elijah, and we will continue to cooperate with the judicial process.” 

In addition to the manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges, paramedics Cooper and Cichuniec also face one count of second-degree assault with intent to cause bodily injury and caused bodily injury. As well as one count of second-degree assault for recklessly causing serious injury by means of a deadly weapon– ketamine.

The paramedics also face one count of second-degree assault for a purpose other than medical or therapeutic treatment intentionally causing stupor unconsciousness or other physical or mental impairment or injury to McClain by administering ketamine without consent.

Medics used ketamine to sedate McClain and he died in a hospital soon after. A coroner could not rule out that McClain may have suffered from an unexpected reaction to the drug, but ruled the cause and manner of McClain’s death was undetermined.

Cooper and Cichuniec also face two counts of crimes of violence related to each of the assault charges, Weiser announced.

FOX31 provided in-depth coverage on the use of ketamine, and a new law limiting a paramedic’s use of the sedative and prohibiting police officers from influencing the drug’s use on a person was put in place in July.

Weiser’s investigation came months after Dave Young, the former district attorney for the 17th Judicial District, declined to file any criminal charges and after local and national protests over McClain’s death were spurred by a Minnesota police officer’s murder of George Floyd.

Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly provided this statement:

This week marks the two-year anniversary of Elijah’s tragic death, and we know his family mourns him. It brought back painful memories for me like it did for scores of Aurora residents and other people across the country. We must remember that no civil or criminal investigation will erase the pain and heartbreak of Elijah’s loss. “For more than two years our community has grieved the death of a precious life. Our community demanded answers and continually questioned the circumstances surrounding Elijah’s death and we commit to full cooperation as the judicial process moves forward. We want to share again our deepest expression of sympathy to the family members and friends of Elijah McClain.   

City leaders thank the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the members of the Grand Jury for their commitment to a resolution. We respect the judicial process and ask that everyone else do the same. The city has cooperated fully with the Attorney General’s Office and its investigators throughout their thorough and thoughtful work, including their separate investigation into the patterns and practices of the APD, which is still pending. Pursuant to Aurora’s City Charter, any member of the Civil Service, which would include police officers and firefighters, indicted on a felony charge is immediately and indefinitely suspended without pay. This effectively separates the employee from the city of Aurora pending the outcome of the criminal case. 

You have heard me say that we will not waver from our commitment to ‘A New Way’ of policing in Aurora and that holds true today. We are also committed to supporting our officers while we ask them to meet our community’s expectations of transparency and reform. We want our community to know we continue to make multidimensional changes across numerous departments. We continue to collaborate between city, state and community leaders, and the hardworking officers who embrace the work and bravely protect our city. 

This tragedy has greatly changed and shaped Aurora. Today’s announcement is an important step in restoring the community’s trust in Aurora’s public safety agencies and in honoring Elijah’s life.” 

Weiser said his office is filing the indictment in Adams County District Court and it will be unsealed.

Weiser spoke with McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, Tuesday. He reportedly wept tears of joy at the news the Colorado attorney general would be issuing indictments.

“Nothing will bring back my son, but I am thankful that his killers will finally be held accountable,” shared LaWayne Mosley.

“For far too long, racist and brutal police across this country have acted as though the law does not apply to them. This indictment serves as a powerful reminder to all members of law enforcement that no one is above the law,” Mosley’s attorney, Mari Newman, said.

“For more than two years our community has grieved the death of a precious life. Our community demanded answers and continually questioned the circumstances surrounding Elijah’s death and we are committed to fully cooperating as the judicial process moves forward,” Aurora Fire Rescue Chief Fernando Gray said. “We want to share again our deepest expression of sympathy to the family members and friends of Elijah McClain.” 

Colorado’s attorney general announced he had handed the McClain case over to a grand jury in January.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers have done extensive investigations into McClain’s death.

Catch up with the investigation here:

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