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Three Colorado police officers and two emergency responders were charged this week in the death of Colorado massage therapist Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was put in a chokehold and injected with ketamine during an arrest.
On Wednesday, a statewide grand jury indicted Aurora police officers Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema, and Jason Rosenblatt, including paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper, for manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in McClain’s 2019 death, officials announced.
"We're here today because Elijah McClain is not here and he should be," Attorney General Phil Weiser said, according to CNN. "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 must live without him."
Roedema, and Rosenblatt were also charged with second-degree assault intended to cause serious bodily injury, and crime of violence. Cooper and Cichuniec were also slapped with three counts of second-degree assault, including unlawfully administering ketamine without consent, as well as crime of violence charges.
On Aug. 24, 2019, officers stopped McClain, after responding to a caller who said they saw a “sketchy” person wearing a ski mask and waving their arms. Police later apprehended McClain and placed him in a chokehold. He told officers, “I can’t breathe,” as he was handcuffed and injected with 500 milligrams of ketamine, a potent sedative.
McClain later went into cardiac arrest. Three days later he was declared brain dead and was later taken off life support.
It was later discovered that McClain was given 1.5 times the appropriate dose of ketamine, according to the Denver Post.
"By the time he was placed on the gurney, Mr. McClain appeared unconscious, had no muscle tone, was limp, and had visible vomit coming from his nose and mouth," the indictment alleged. "[Officer] Roedema said he heard Mr. McClain snoring, which can be a sign of a ketamine overdose."
McClain’s family reacted positively after learning of the charges.
“I started crying because it's been two years," Sheneen McClain, McClain’s mother, told CNN. "It's been a long journey, you know, and it's overwhelming. I'm still processing it, you know, because this is one of those things that has never really been done and is being done right here because of my son, so it's overwhelming."
McClain’s mother maintained her son often wore a ski mask because he lived with anemia, a blood condition that makes people more susceptible to cold temperatures. She called the indictment a step toward justice, ABC News reported.
"I'm still praying for them to be in prison,” she told the network. “My son's murderers and their accomplices all need to be in prison for what they did to him. They had no right to stop him. They had no right to handcuff him, brutalize and terrorize him, or inject him with ketamine."
McClain’s parents previously filed a federal civil rights suit against police and medical officials.
"Nothing will bring back my son, but I am thankful that his killers will finally be held accountable," LaWayne Mosely added in a separate statement through his legal team.
The family’s attorney, Iris Halpern, described the moment as a sliver of justice.
“Full justice can never be done here because Elijah will never return to us,” Halpern told ABC News. “He's dead and his family is going to have to go on without him for all time.”
In 2019, former Adams County District Attorney Dave Young initially declined to charge the officers and paramedics involved in McClain’s death due to a supposed lack of evidence, including an inconclusive autopsy.
"I cannot take a case to the jury where I don't know what the cause of death is on a homicide case,” Young told CNN in 2020.
Following mounting pressure and nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s police killing in June 2020, Governor Jared Polis ordered a renewed investigation into the massage therapist’s death. Polis later appointed Weiser as the cases’ special prosecutor.
In February, a state investigation revealed that authorities had no reasonable basis to stop or detain McClain.
"Make no mistake, we recognize that this case will be difficult to prosecute,” Weiser added. “These types of cases always are. Our goal is to seek justice for Elijah McClain, for his family and friends and for our state. In so doing, we advance the rule of law and our commitment that everyone is accountable and equal under the law."
Both the Aurora Police Department and Fire Rescue didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment by Oxygen.com on Thursday regarding the series of charges.
However, Aurora’s city manager, along with police and fire officials, issued a statement after the indictment was handed down.
“I know this has been a long-awaited decision for Ms. McClain and her family,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson stated. “This tragedy will forever be imprinted on our community. We continue to offer our condolences for the loss of Elijah, and we will continue to cooperate with the judicial process.”
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