32-count criminal indictment names three cops & two paramedics
AURORA, Colorado––The August 30, 2019 forced ketamine overdose death of animal shelter volunteer Elijah McClain, 23, who declared his belief in vegetarian nonviolence with his dying breath, on September 1, 2021 at last brought criminal charges against the three police officers and two paramedics in whose hands McClain died.
Colorado Attorney General Philip J. Weiser announced that a grand jury impaneled in January 2021 had elected to indict Aurora police officers Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard, former Aurora police officer Jason Rosenblatt, and Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
The 32-count grand jury indictment also charged Roedema and Rosenblatt each with one count of assault and one count of committing a crime of violence.
Paramedics Cooper and Cichuniec were indicted on three counts each of assault and six counts each of committing crimes of violence.
The indictments clear the way for further investigation of the administration of ketamine by paramedics that Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment spokesperson Peter Myers told media in February 2021 had been “on hold until the conclusion of [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 injected with ketamine all for no reason evident in video and audio recordings of the incident.
McClain, who weighed 143 pounds, was on August 24, 2019 given a 500 milligram dose of ketamine, the recommended dosage for a 200-pound person.
McClain, 23, a black man employed as a massage therapist, was pronounced brain-dead six days later.
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.
McClain, a self-taught violinist and guitar player, 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 were captured on police body camera 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.”
3.5 million people petitioned governor
McClain’s death attracted only local attention, rallied by family and friends, until after the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, convicted in April 2021.
The 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 Woodyard, Rosenblatt, and Roedema testified that McClain, who was listening to music as he walked, at about 10:30 p.m. on August 24, 2019, 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 Roedema claimed McClain reached for one officer’s gun. The police body camera videos showed no evidence of that, but actually showed little at all, despite recording the sounds of the entire encounter.
The three police 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.
Paramedics called to the scene by the police then “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.”
“Conduct unbecoming an officer”
Aurora police chief Vanessa Wilson in July 2020 fired Rosenblatt and two other Aurora police officers who were not directly involved in the McLain death, Erica Marrero and Kyle Dittrich, for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”
“Marrero, Dittrich and a third officer,” explained Jennifer Campbell-Hicks and Marc Sallinger of 9 News, while on duty on October 20, 2019, “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.