The police bodycam video, the voluminous police reports and, ultimately, the results of a grand jury investigation and indictment have long evaporated any doubts that Aurora police and firefighters caused the death of Elijah McClain just over four years ago.
Despite that, the police and firefighters charged with McClain’s death will certainly give a passionate argument in their defense as their trials, finally, get underway this week.
Jurors will decide whether former APD officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt committed manslaughter, criminally negligent reckless homicide and other assault charges.
Not on trial this week is the Aurora Police Department.
That trial opened and closed more than a year ago when the state attorney general identified “patterns and practices” exhibited for years by the APD. The department was convicted of police officers systematically abusing people, using excessive force, especially when dealing with people of color.
The Aurora Police department was found guilty and is still working out terms of its parole.
While the employer of Roedema and Rosenblatt were responsible for creating an environment for these two cops to carry out their crimes against McClain, these officers, and others charged, solely bear responsibility for McClain’s death.
As police critics and proponents have frequently pointed out, the Aurora Police Department is filled with diligent, dedicated police officers who deserve the community’s respect and gratitude — despite working for a department that did virtually nothing to prevent nor discipline officers for the depravity inflicted on McClain.
In fact, after an initial internal investigation, Aurora police determined that the officers accused were justified in how they eventually killed McClain.
It took two years after McClain was killed for a 32-count indictment handed down to Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to illustrate how Aurora police wrongly accosted McClain while he was walking home at night from a convenience store.
Years of investigation from inside and outside the Aurora police department have made it clear that McClain was targeted and tortured by police because he was a young Black man in a poor neighborhood.
Despite doing nothing wrong nor illegal, police pounced on McClain, attacked him as they tried to wrongly subdue him and choked him into unconsciousness as he struggled, petrified that he was about to be killed.
Incompetent and complicit fire department medics then injected McClain with ketamine, a powerful tranquilizer, even after he’d been subdued with a chokehold and fainted.
Misjudging his weight, they injected McClain with too much of the drug for his size. His heart stopped, and he died a few days later.
Despite investigations making clear how the events of that night led to and caused McClain’s death, neither the Aurora police department nor the 17th Judicial District Attorney found evidence that a crime had been committed and warranted prosecution, or even discipline.
The case this week is against two officers who acted inappropriately from the moment they rolled onto the scene and encountered McClain walking home on a summer night, carrying a plastic bag with cans of iced tea he’d walked to the end of the street to buy from a convenience store.
Police were not looking for a crime suspect. No crime had been committed.
A passing motorist called police to say something seemed wrong about McClain because he was wearing a runner’s mask, something he regularly did.
Had Roedema and Rosenblatt have just harassed or only injured McClain while accosting him, it’s nearly certain no one but McClain and his family would ever have known about the patently abusive attack.
But not only was McClain’s treatment by police and firefighters abusive, it was lethal.
And in this case, each officer and medic had multiple opportunities to draw back on the abuse as it unfolded, and each officer and medic chose to escalate the event. They chose to inflict injuries on McClain that ultimately robbed him of his liberty, his dignity and then his life.
The trial starting this week isn’t about errant policing or making mistakes under pressure. It’s about deliberately choosing to be deadly abusive, and the public seeking justice for the crimes individual police and medics committed.