Grand jury investigation ordered 18 months after animal shelter volunteer died from ketamine overdose administered by paramedics at police direction
AURORA, Colorado––If slow response and jerky gestures were the criteria for injecting ketamine into the butts of Colorado public officials, as well as the alleged symptoms for which Aurora paramedics fatally overdosed vegetarian animal shelter volunteer Elijah McClain at police direction on August 24, 2019, whole tiers of bureaucracy involved in response to McClain’s death might be stoned on ketamine by now.
“The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment has paused its investigation into the administration of ketamine by paramedics in the case of Elijah McClain,” reported Lori Jane Gliha for KDVR, Fox 31 Denver, on February 15, 2021.
(See Vigil for vegetarian Elijah McClain, allegedly killed by police in Aurora, Colorado.)
Investigation “on hold” for six months
“The investigation has been on hold since August 2020, despite health department officials previously telling Fox 31 otherwise,” Gliha continued.
Confirmed Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment spokesperson Peter Myers, “CDPHE’s complaint investigation is still on hold until the conclusion of [Colorado attorney general Phil Weiser’s] investigation.”
Weiser became involved, at order of Colorado governor Jared Polis, eleven months after McClain died. McClain, never accused of any crime, had been detained by police, tackled, choked, and forcibly injected with ketamine all for no reason evident in video and audio recordings of the incident.
State agency released misleading info
Gliha disclosed the continuing delay almost a month after Colorado Public Radio News reporter Andrew Kenney on January 18, 2021 told listeners, based on a Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment media statement, that the department was “once again examining the use of ketamine in non-hospital situations, including to subdue people without their permission.”
Said Kenney, “A state committee will ‘be charged with examining the safety of ketamine administration in Emergency Medical Services settings,’ read a statement from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.
“State authorities first announced in August 2020 that they would review the [ketamine] program for at least 12 weeks. That review was paused,” summarized Kenney, so that the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment could ‘reassess the scope, in deference to other investigations,’” according to the departmental statement.
Complications in a sixth of forced injections
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment acknowledged that “medical providers have administered ketamine 902 times to people suffering ‘excited delirium and/or extreme or profound agitation’ in the last three years,” Kenney summarized.
“Of those, 153 instances had a ‘complication.’ The most common complication listed is hypoxia, which is a shortness of oxygen to the body’s tissue,” explained Kenney.
“McClain received 500 milligrams of the sedative, which is the recommended dosage for a 200-pound person,” Kenney noted. “McClain weighed 143 pounds.”
Colorado state attorney general Phil Weiser on January 8, 2021 announced that his office had “opened a grand jury investigation,” in order to “compel testimony from witnesses and require production of documents and other relevant information that would otherwise be unavailable,” Celine Castronuovo of The Hill reported.
This follows an “ongoing independent investigation into McClain’s death that was launched over the summer [of 2020],” Castronuovo recalled.
Three cops fired over “selfie”
To date, the only legal consequence for Aurora police officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema, who were immediately involved in McClain’s death, has been that Aurora police chief Vanessa Wilson in July 2020 fired Rosenblatt and two other Aurora police officers who were not directly involved, Erica Marrero and Kyle Dittrich, for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”
“Marrero, Dittrich and a third officer were on duty on October 20, 2019,” explained Jennifer Campbell-Hicks and Marc Sallinger of 9 News, “and had just completed a call in the area” of a memorial to McClain, when they snapped and distributed by text message a “selfie” in which they demonstrated a “carotid hold” similar to the one that was used on McClain before he was injected with ketamine.
“The other officer, identified as Jaron Jones,” Campbell-Hicks and Sallinger continued, “resigned before any disciplinary action was taken.”
Rosenblatt, upon receiving the photo, texted back “Ha ha.”
The firings were on February 9, 2021 upheld by the Aurora Civil Service Commission.
McClain, 23, a black man employed as a massage therapist, was pronounced brain-dead on August 30, 2019, six days after being detained by three white police officers, handcuffed, put in a chokehold, and forcibly injected with ketamine after that.
A drug long used for many purposes, ketamine is probably best known within the animal care community as a veterinary sedative commonly used in doing spay/neuter surgery.
A self-taught violinist and guitar player, McClain, according to the Aurora Sentinel, often spent his lunch breaks performing for the cats and dogs at local animal shelters in hopes the music would help to calm them.
McClain’s last words, like those of Minneapolis police violence victim George Floyd, who was choked to death on May 25, 2020, were captured on videotape of the incident.
“I don’t eat meat. I’m a vegetarian.”
Never accused or even suspected of having committed any crime, McClain was stopped simply for “suspicious behavior,” specifically wearing a ski mask on a warm evening because he suffered from anemia, which interfered with his ability to regulate his body temperature.
“I can’t breathe. I have my I.D. right here. My name is Elijah McClain,” he tried to explain to the police. “That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different, that’s all. I’m so sorry,” McClain pleaded. “I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me?
“I don’t even kill flies,” McClain continued, to no avail. “I don’t eat meat. I’m a vegetarian. But I don’t judge people. And I respect all life. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity. I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful. And I love you. Try to forgive me … I just can’t breathe correctly.”
McClain’s death attracted only local attention, rallied by family and friends, until after the George Floyd case drew national notice of many similar deaths of black men and women at the hands of law enforcement personnel who allegedly overstepped their authority.
Eventually more than 3.5 million people signed online petitions asking Colorado governor Jared Polis to re-examine the case, which had been closed without charges on November 22, 2019.
Aurora police officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema testified that McClain, who was listening to music as he walked, at about 10:30 p.m. on the night in question, ignored repeated requests from them to stop, and was carrying a plastic bag.
The bag contained a bottle of iced tea that McClain had just picked up at a corner store half a block away for his brother.
Officer Randy Roedema claimed McClain reached for one officer’s gun. All three officers then took McClain down to the ground, according to the police report. One officer put McClain in a carotid hold, meaning pressure is applied to the side of a person’s neck to temporarily cut off blood flow to the brain.
“Due to the level of physical force applied while restraining the subject and his agitated mental state,” officers then called Aurora First Responders.
“Paramedics injected McClain with what they said was a ‘therapeutic’ amount of ketamine to sedate him, while officers held him down. McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital,” summarized Claire Lampen of The Cut.
Threatened with police dog, too
“One of the officers can also be heard threatening to set his dog on McClain if he “keep[s] messing around,” Lampen wrote. The officer claimed the 140-pound McClain “exhibited an extreme show of strength when officers tried to pin back his arms.
“Very little of the officers’ protocol can be seen, however,” Lampen added, “because all of their body cams allegedly fell off during the arrest.”
Officers Woodyard, Rosenblatt, and Roedema were placed on temporary administrative leave after McClain died, but were returned to normal duties after district attorney Dave Young informed Aurora police chief Nick Metz that “No state criminal charges will be filed as a result of this incident.”
Jamaka Petzak says
Thanking you for this article and sharing to socials with deep sorrow and continuing outrage. This man was the closest thing to an angel I have ever heard of. I would have loved him if I had been privileged to know him; and I know I’m far from alone in that.
Marilee Meyer says
As soon as I learned about Elijah McClain, I felt like I would have loved to have him as a friend. What a tragic loss to all of us.