The three Aurora police officers and two paramedics have bumped their plans to plea in the cases against them alleging roles in the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain to November.
Lawyers from both sides agreed to a secondary arraignment date for Nov. 4.
Former officer Jason Rosenblatt and officers Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema and paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper collectively face 32 criminal charges, including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and lesser assault charges.
Woodyard, Roedema, Cichuniec and Cooper are unpaid leave from their positions.
A grand jury returned with the indictments almost a year ago, but there have been delays throughout the proceedings with defendants filing motions to dismiss and the attorney general’s office filing motions making sure all of the defendants were represented by separate counselors.
Adams County Judge Priscilla Loew ruled that she would like to try the cases together this week. In a hearing in April, Loew apologized for the delays and said she had homicide trials throughout the summer and that she needed to get through the several hundred pages of grand jury testimony.
Three years ago, McClain was walking back from an Aurora convenience store when someone called the police and said he was allegedly acting suspiciously. He was wearing a mask and dressed warmly on a summer day, waving his hands in the air.
Officers Woodyard, Rosenblatt, and Roedema tried to question him, and the exchange quickly escalated when officers say McClain resisted commands.
According to a tape of the incident, McClain told police he didn’t have a gun and that he preferred personal space.
Officers eventually placed McClain in a carotid chokehold, a tactic that is now banned in Colorado. He briefly passed out and also vomited a couple of times. Paramedics injected McClain with ketamine, and he went into cardiac arrest while being transported to the hospital. He died several days later after doctors declared him brain dead.
The local district attorney at the time declined to file criminal charges against any officer or paramedic, but Gov. Jared Polis, in an executive order, asked Attorney General Phil Weiser to look into it.
Weiser brought evidence to the statewide grand jury starting in January 2021. They returned with indictments in August 2021.
Sheneen McClain, Elijah’s mother, has called for her son’s justice since the beginning. She has attended every court hearing with her lawyer Qusair Mohamedbhai.
Securing felony convictions may be tough for Weiser’s criminal prosecutors, however, because a contracted coroner at the time did not consider McClain’s death a homicide; rather, he called it “undetermined” because he said it was unclear how the man died.
“I feel like the legal system — I understand it, but it’s still disappointing. No matter what the explanations are,” Sheneen McClain said, referencing the year her son, Elijah, was killed.
“2019? It’s 2022. In a few months, it’s 2023,” she said, questioning how much longer the legal proceedings would take.
McClain, who traveled nearly 30 minutes for the hearing, said she was not made aware that the court schedule would be postponed ahead of time.
“I’m not even tripping,” she said. “Eventually, it will get to trial, and when we get there, then that’s the time I’m going to really be celebrating.”
During the arraignment, Jeremy Cooper, Pete Cichuniec, Randy Roedema, Jason Rosenblatt, and Nathan Woodyard, who served either as Aurora paramedics or as Aurora police officers at the time of McClain’s death, will formally enter a plea in the case.
A grand jury indicted the five people on 32 charges last year.
“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,” Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said at the time of the indictment.