DENVER | A state grand jury on Wednesday indicted the five Aurora first responders who detained, restrained and sedated Elijah McClain as he was walking home from a local convenience store two years ago, accusing three police officers and two fire paramedics of felony manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and second-degree assault, among other charges.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced the release of the 32-count indictment filed in Adams County District Court, capping a more than year-long probe that began when Gov. Jared Polis last June named Weiser as a special prosecutor to re-examine how Aurora officials treated McClain.
The three Aurora police officers, 39-year-old Randy Roedema, 32-year-old Nathan Woodyard and 32-year-old Jason Rosenblatt, and two Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics, 46-year-old Jeremy Cooper and 48-year-old Peter Cichuniec, named in the indictment each face one count of manslaughter and one count of criminally negligent homicide, Weiser said. Both charges are classified as felonies.
Roedema and Rosenblatt — the latter of who was fired from the department last summer after he became ensnared in a photo scandal mocking McClain’s death — also both face felony counts of second-degree assault and additional allegations of crimes of violence.
The paramedics were indicted on a bevy of additional counts, including second-degree assault with intent to cause bodily injury, assault for recklessly causing serious bodily injury by means of a deadly weapon — ketamine — assault for a purpose other than lawful, medical or therapeutic treatment and intentionally causing stupor, unconsciousness or other impairment by administering a drug — ketamine — without consent, and allegations of crimes of violence.
The four staffers named in the indictment that are still working for the city have been indefinitely suspended without pay per municipal policy, City Manager Jim Twombly confirmed in a statement.
The indictment includes a seven-page narrative explaining the events that led up to McClain’s death, rehashing the chaotic scene on Billings Street that concluded with McClain vomiting into a ski mask he was wearing and going limp before he was loaded onto a gurney and into an ambulance where he went into cardiac arrest en route to a nearby hospital.
The document recounts how the paramedics miscalculated McClain’s weight by nearly 60 pounds and injected him with 500 milligrams of ketamine — about 175 milligrams more than what was recommended for McClain’s 143-pound stature. The paramedics later justified how they treated McClain by citing the debated medical condition of “excited delirium,” an analysis a consultant later rejected.
“After reviewing body-worn camera footage of officers who were present during the incident, an emergency room physician with expertise in paramedic protocols concluded the excited delirium was an inaccurate diagnosis born of the paramedics’ failure to adequately assess Mr. McClain’s symptoms, and further concluded that ketamine should never have been administered,” the document reads. ” … Mr. McClain was a normal, healthy 23-year-old man prior to encountering law enforcement and medical response personnel.”
McClain, a Black man, was unarmed and never accused of a crime. His interaction with police was prompted by a passerby who described McClain as “sketchy.”
An attorney for McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, said he wept when he learned of the indictments while on a call with Weiser yesterday.
“Nothing will bring back my son, but I am thankful that his killers will finally be held accountable,” Mosley said in a statement.
McClain’s mother, an activist for police reform, said today was a milestone.
“What I set out to do is still not over, but I’m halfway there. I’m halfway there,” McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, told The Associated Press of her efforts to hold police accountable.
The state grand jury, a seldom-used organ that Weiser invoked in the case earlier this year, ended their deliberations last Thursday — two days after the two-year anniversary of McClain’s encounter with Aurora officials.
“We’re here today because Elijah McClain is not,” Weiser said during the Wednesday news conference, highlighting that jurors were met with considerable challenges throughout the investigation, particularly because of the pandemic.
He did not take questions from reporters, saying, “we will do our talking in court.”
Sheneen McClain lauded Weiser’s decision to forward the case to jurors.
“With the amount of effort and ingenuity that Attorney General Phil Weiser put into it, and the amount of time and effort that the grand jury members put into it, I can’t complain because their account of what happen to Elijah is basically the same as mine: He was tortured, brutalized, beat up and murdered,” she said Wednesday evening. “I’m not complaining about the amount of time it took to get these findings. I’m happy with these findings. I would have waited my whole life.”
The 23-year-old massage therapist’s death spawned international protests across the metroplex last summer after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis brought new attention to his interaction with Aurora police and fire officials the evening of Aug. 24, 2019. He was pronounced brain dead on Aug. 27, 2019, and he was taken off life support three days later.
In February, a panel of consultants hired by the city to evaluate the circumstances that led up to McClain’s death concluded that police and fire officials did not have the authority nor justification to stop, hold, arrest, subdue, choke or medicate McClain.
Another city-commissioned report into the Aurora Police Department as a whole recently suggested the city should overhaul how officers use force, diversify the department’s ranks and retool how personnel are disciplined for breaking the rules, among a slew of additional changes.
The roughly 160-page report that cost the city more than $350,000 runs through more than 47 recommendations for the beleaguered department.
City and police heads have already begun implementing some of those suggestions, including the creation of a force investigation unit, bans on certain maneuvers used on McClain and the recent addition of a police auditor and the promise of a new monitor position to oversee the department.
A citizen-led task force has also met for more than a year to issue additional guidelines for the department, a process that culminated in a series of recommendations issued earlier this spring. When those suggestions could be adopted remains undetermined, according to task force members.
Several additional investigations spawned from McClain’s death, including a probe from the state health department and the Department of Justice, remain pending. Weiser’s office is also still conducting a “patterns and practices” investigation into the entire Aurora Police Department.
Aurora Congressman Jason Crow: “While nothing can bring Elijah McClain back, this is a critical step in ensuring that justice is served on his behalf. I stand with Elijah’s family, friends, and community who mourn his loss. Today we join the community in seeking greater accountability and justice.”
Qusair Mohamedbhai, attorney representing McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, in a civil suit filed in federal court: “After 20 years of doing this and not seeing indictments, particularly in Aurora, you sort of expect more of the same. So this was a surprise — a welcome surprise. This is the justice that Naeschylus Carter and Captain (Richard “Gary”) Black did not receive.”
Mari Newman, attorney representing McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, in a civil suit filed in federal court: “This indictment serves as a powerful reminder to all members of law enforcement that no one is above the law.”
Gov. Jared Polis: “Elijah McClain’s death was a tragedy and my thoughts are with his mother, father, friends, and family today. This innocent young man should be here today. I thank Attorney General Phil Weiser and the members of the Grand Jury for their work to hold those responsible accountable. I continue to urge my fellow Coloradans to consider how we can work together to build a better future where everyone can be safe walking home and a Colorado for all.”
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson: “I know this has been a long-awaited decision for Ms. McClain and her family. 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.”
Aurora State Rep. Iman Jodeh: “I am anxiously hopeful this process will bring justice for Elijah McClain, accountability for those officers and EMTs involved, and a semblance of people for Elijah’s family and our community.”
Aurora State Sen. Rhonda Fields: “After two long years, we finally have some clarity on Elijah McClain’s case, and can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that these individuals will be held accountable for their vile actions. Today, I stand in solidarity with the McClain family, all of his loved ones, and the Aurora community, and commit to continue working together to advance meaningful criminal justice reform so we can create a world where black lives truly do matter.”
Aurora State Sen. Janet Buckner: “Elijah McClain was a gentle soul who cared for others, who wanted to change the world, but whose precious life was taken from us much too soon. Far too often, instances of police violence wreak havoc on communities of color, and so many Black men and women do not get the justice and accountability they deserve. Today, we got some accountability and a real path toward justice.”
Aurora NAACP President Omar Montgomery: “Aurora has gone through a lot of different investigations but none of them have really resulted in justice for Elijah McClain. I’m glad that we have this outcome because now we can begin to look at reform differently. This is a good start for us to begin to see the justice system work, hopefully.”
Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly: “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. 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.”
Aurora activist and city council candidate Candice Bailey: “We didn’t know what was going to happen, or when it was going to happen, or how it was going to happen. It felt very ambiguous. The timeline kept moving, and it just kept moving, and we were never going to get to a space where we were going to see something come to fruition. And there’s a relief, I think, across the board. Some never see justice in this nation, and I think in relativity two years is nothing. Two years is absolutely nothing.”
Aurora activist and Community Police Task Force member Lindsay Minter: “It was a very emotional day for me. I thought about Ms. Sheneen and Elijah’s dad a lot. I was excited to hear that they had gotten charged at all, I was not excited that the largest charge carries 2-6 years and protestors have faced more years for protesting than his murder…Me and Candice (Bailey) were there at the start when only 10 people were gathering. I got told (in 2020) that we piggybacked off of another Black man’s death and that was so hurtful to me because I just wanted Elijah’s name to be heard…There’s so many things that I hope will be uncovered during the trial. I don’t know what justice really looks like until we have a law that’s specific to police violence, and that’s a radical thought and will probably never happen, but people said Senate Bill 217 would never happen either.”
Aurora Fraternal Order of Police president Marc Sears: “Our officers are innocent until proven guilty, and we stand by our brothers.”
Congressman Joe Neguse: “The tragic death of Elijah McClain was devastating for so many in the Colorado community. While accountability for those involved in his death cannot bring him back, such justice is critical to provide healing for his family and the community. I am grateful to Attorney General Weiser for his work to seek the truth and further the rule of law. While the prosecution for Elijah’s death continues, we also must work to change our laws and ensure a tragedy like this one never happens again. We’ve introduced the Ketamine Restriction Act to federally ban the use of ketamine during arrest or detention for precisely this reason.”
Aurora Police Association board of directors: “Immediately after Elijah McClain’s death, then Aurora Police Department Chief Nick Metz stated clearly that Mr. McClain was not murdered by Aurora Police Department officers. Nothing has changed. Our officers did nothing wrong. Sadly, Mr. McClain died due to a combination of exertion due to his decision to violently resist arrest and a pre-existing heart condition. He was alive and talking when the officers turned him over to EMS. There is no evidence that APD officers caused his death. The hysterical overreaction to this case has severely damaged the police department. Inevitably, the public are the ones who’ve paid the price. This fall, the public has the opportunity to restore sanity to this situation in the City Council elections. They should not take a return to normalcy for granted.”
Aurora Fire Rescue Chief Fernando Gray: “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. We want to share again our deepest expression of sympathy to the family members and friends of Elijah McClain.”
Aurora Fire Fighters: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Elijah McClain. We are aware of the serious charges brought today by the Colorado Attorney General. Multiple previous investigations into this matter have cleared Aurora Firefighters and we stand by the legal process moving forward. It should be noted that Aurora has over 400 professional fire fighters who have dedicated their careers to keeping our community safe.”
Sen. Michael Bennet: “I’m grateful to Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser for convening the grand jury and seeking equal protection under the law. I want to thank Elijah McClain’s mother, Sheneen, and father, Lawayne, for their perseverance in fighting for justice for their son. More must be done to ensure that this does not happen again, and I will continue to push for change and demand justice for Black men and women in Colorado and across this country.”