Colorado officer found guilty in Elijah McClain death

Former Aurora Police officer Randy Roedema arrives to the Adams County Justice Center in Brighton, Colorado on Wednesday, September 20, 2023.Getty Images

A Colorado officer has been found guilty in the death of Elijah McClain, who was pinned down before a medic injected him with ketamine and he died.

A jury unanimously convicted officer Randy Roedema of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault.

Another officer, Jason Rosenblatt, facing the same charges was acquitted.

Both men were accused of using excessive force and ignoring the unarmed black man’s repeated cries of “I can’t breathe”.

Under Colorado law, Roedema now faces possible prison time and a fine.

He was suspended without pay from the Aurora Police Department, while Mr Rosenblatt was fired in 2020.

The 12-person jury reached a verdict on Thursday after deliberating for 16 hours in over two days. The trial is the first of three in relation to Mr McClain’s death.

On 24 August 2019, Mr McClain, a 23-year-old autistic massage therapist, was walking home from a corner shop when three white police officers confronted him after an emergency caller reported a “sketchy” person in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

He was wearing a balaclava, which his family has said protected him from chronic chills due to his anaemia.

Listening to music on his headphones, he had initially ignored officers’ calls for him to stop walking.

Body camera footage of the incident showed him pleading with officers that he did nothing wrong, before they wrestled him to the ground and placed him in a chokehold.

Seven times, Mr McClain was heard telling the officers: “I can’t breathe” – the same refrain uttered by George Floyd as he was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2020.

After officers called for assistance, a medic injected Mr McClain with ketamine to sedate him.

Mr McClain went limp, stopped breathing and never regained consciousness. He was declared brain-dead three days later.

A key focus of the two officers’ trial was how Mr McClain died.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors said Roedema and Mr Rosenblatt “chose force at every opportunity” instead of de-escalating the situation, counter to their training.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the officers argued they had no choice but to forcefully subdue him after he resisted them.

They also argued that it was the ketamine that killed Mr McClain, and that the paramedics were responsible for his death.

An autopsy report in September 2022 concluded that he had died from “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint”.

In a statement on social media after Thursday’s verdict, Aurora Police Department Chief Art Acevedo said: “We respect the verdict handed by the jury.”

Mr McClain was declared dead on 27 August 2019, but his death faced renewed scrutiny after Mr Floyd’s murder.

Several others have also been charged with his death, including a third officer, Nathan Woodyard, and medics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec.

All three have pleaded not guilty. They will be tried in two separate cases later this year.

Roedema is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

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