Jury selection is slated to begin Friday in the joint trial of two of five defendants charged in connection to the 2019 death of a 23-year-old Black man who was stopped by police in a Denver suburb, restrained and, injected with ketamine.
Elijah McClain‘s death gained renewed attention amid racial justice protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. A Colorado grand jury subsequently indicted five police officers and paramedics on manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and other charges. The group, including Aurora police officer Randy Roedema, 41, and former officer Jason Rosenblatt, 34, pleaded not guilty to the charges in January.
Roedema and Rosenblatt will be the first in the group to stand trial as jury selection begins Friday. The trial is scheduled to last until Oct. 17, according to Lawrence Pacheco, a spokesperson for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
Here’s what to know about the case:
What happened to Elijah McClain?
McClain, a massage therapist who played his violin for cats, was walking home from the store on Aug. 24, 2019, when he was stopped by police after a 911 caller reported a man who seemed “sketchy.” McClain was not armed or accused of committing a crime. But officers quickly threw him to the ground and placed him in a since-banned carotid artery chokehold. Paramedics later arrived and injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative. He died days later.
An original autopsy report written soon after his death did not list a conclusion about how he died or the type of death. But an amended autopsy report released last year determined McClain died because of “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint.” The amended report still lists his manner of death as “undetermined.”
Officers, paramedics indicted after protests
A local prosecutor initially declined to bring criminal charges over McClain’s death partly because of the inconclusive initial autopsy report. But as the case received more attention after former Minneapolis police officers killed Floyd, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser launched a grand jury investigation.
Rosenblatt was fired in 2020 not for his role in the restraint but after he responded “HaHa” to a photo of three other offices reenacting the chokehold at a memorial to McClain. Roedema, fellow officer Nathan Woodyard, and paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec were suspended.
In 2021, Roedema, Rosenblatt, Woodyard, Cooper, and Cichuniec were charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Cooper, Cichuniec, Roedema, and Rosenblatt also face second-degree assault and crime of violence charges. But last month, prosecutors dropped the crime of violence sentence enhancers, which carry mandatory minimum prison sentences, against Roedema and Rosenblatt, the Denver Post reported.
Woodyard’s trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 16, and Cichuniec and Cooper are scheduled to stand trial on Nov. 27, according to Pacheco.
City agrees to settlement, reforms
Aurora agreed to pay $15 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by McClain’s parents in 2021. Also in 2021, a civil rights investigation into the Aurora police and fire departments found they violated state and federal law through racially biased policing, use of excessive force, failing to record community interactions and unlawfully administering ketamine.
The city later agreed to a consent decree, which required officials to make specific changes regarding “policies, training, record keeping, and hiring,” according to the office responsible for monitoring progress on that agreement.