McClain was wearing a ski mask and dancing on his walk home from a convenience store on Aug. 24, 2019 when someone called 911 to report that he “looked sketchy,” The New York Times reported. Officer Nathan Woodyard was the first to arrive on the scene. He ordered McClain to stop, according to the indictment.
“Woodyard did not see Mr. McClain with any weapons, but he noted a grocery bag and that, in his opinion, Mr. McClain was ‘suspicious,'” officials said in the indictment. When officer Randy Rosenblatt, who no longer works for Aurora police, joined Woodyard, the “stop quickly turned physical.” Officer Randy Roedema told investigators “that in Aurora, as opposed to other police departments, they tended to ‘take control of an individual, whether that be you know, a[n] escort position, a twist lock, whatever it may be, we tend to control it before it needs to be controlled.'”
Officials described in the indictment officers grabbing McClain’s arms and forcing him to a grassy area, where they threw his bag of canned ice tea to the ground. Amid a struggle with McClain, Roedema allegedly told Rosenblatt that McClain had reached for “your gun.” Rosenblatt stated he didn’t feel any contact with his weapon.
“Officers are instructed that, to perform a carotid control hold, an officer uses his or her bicep and forearm to apply pressure to the carotid arteries on the sides of a subject’s neck, thereby cutting off blood flow to the subject’s brain and causing temporary unconsciousness for the purpose gaining compliance or control,” officials stated in the indictment. “Rosenblatt stated that he applied an unsuccessful carotid control hold to Mr. McClain, and Woodyard then applied a carotid control hold that resulted in Mr. McClain going unconscious and snoring.”
Before he was rendered unconscious, the body-camera video showed McClain telling officers he was trying to turn his music off so that he could hear them.
“When medical responders arrived, after about 15 minutes, paramedics injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative,” New York Times journalist Lucy Tompkins wrote.
McClain was taken to the University of Colorado Medical Center, declared brain dead on Aug. 27, 2019, and taken off of life support three days later.
Former District Attorney Dave Young, who chose not to charge officers who detained McClain, said in a 2020 statement that “the pathologist who conducted the autopsy stated that he was unable to conclude that the actions of any law enforcement officer caused Mr. McClain’s death.”
“Based on the facts and evidence of this investigation I cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers involved in this incident were not justified in their actions based on what they knew at the time of this incident,” Young said in the statement CBS Denver obtained. He went on to work for the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office, according to The Gazette.
Following nationwide protests, Roedema, Woodyard, Rosenblatt, and Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were indicted by a statewide grand jury, according to the office of Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
“After we were appointed to take on this important responsibility, we took it very seriously,” Weiser said in a news release on Sep. 1.
“We have the solemn duty to prosecute this case and recognize that it will be difficult to prosecute—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 the commitment that everyone is accountable and equal under the law.”
Independent investigators released 157 pages of findings on Feb. 22 in their probe of the encounter. Investigators wrote:
First, the interviews conducted by Major Crime were neither probing nor objective. The officers involved were not asked key questions about their conduct or the justification for their actions. At times, questions appeared designed to elicit specific exonerating “magic language”from the case law.855 In addition, the report of the Major Crime Unit stretched the record to exonerate the officers rather than present a neutral version of the facts. For example, the report stated that the officers were there to “check on his well-being,” that they “attempted to explain toMcClain why they wanted to talk to him and determine if he needed medical assistance,” and that the officers attempted verbal de-escalation throughout. 856 Nothing in the video or interviews support these assertions. The closest evidence in the record is Officer Woodyard’s statement that he would have stopped Mr. McClain even absent the call because he was acting strangely. 857 None of the officers ever appeared to express a concern that he might need medical help and EMS appears to have been summoned in compliance with the carotid control hold policy.
What’s worse is that such a culture exists in the Aurora Police Department that three officers felt safe to mock McClain’s death. Officers Erica Marrero, Kyle Dittrich, and Jason Rosenblatt were fired in July 2020, and their terminations were upheld by a three-person commission in February, according to The Washington Post.
Read the indictment below:
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