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Jury begins deliberations in trial of officers charged in Elijah McClain’s death

Oct 11, 2023, 7:00 AM

A jury began deliberations Tuesday in the trial of two Aurora, Colorado, police officers who arrest...

A jury began deliberations Tuesday in the trial of two Aurora, Colorado, police officers who arrested Elijah McClain, an unarmed 23-year-old man. (CNN)

(CNN)

(CNN) — A jury began deliberations Tuesday in the trial of two Aurora, Colorado, police officers who arrested Elijah McClain, an unarmed 23-year-old Black man, who died after he was subdued by police and injected with ketamine by paramedics in 2019.

The two officers, Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt, each face charges including reckless manslaughter and have pleaded not guilty.

Jurors were given the cases at around 4:30 p.m. local time and spent about half an hour in the jury room before being dismissed for the day. The 12 jurors will return at 8:30 a.m. local time Wednesday to resume deliberations.

During closing arguments of the trial on Tuesday, prosecutors said the two officers used excessive force, failed to follow their training and misled paramedics about his health status.

“They were trained. They were told what to do. They were given instructions. They had opportunities, and they failed to choose to de-esclate violence when they needed to, they failed to listen to Mr. McClain when they needed to, and they failed Mr. McClain,” prosecutor Duane Lyons said in court.

Rosenblatt was fired by the police department in 2020 and Roedema remains suspended. Roedema and Rosenblatt have pleaded not guilty to charges of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault causing serious bodily injury in connection with McClain’s death.

The case stems from the events of August 24, 2019, when officers responded to a call about a “suspicious person” wearing a ski mask, according to the indictment. The officers confronted McClain, a 23-year-old  massage therapist, musician and animal lover who was walking home from a convenience store carrying a plastic bag with iced tea.

In an interaction captured on body camera footage, police wrestled McClain to the ground and placed him in a carotid hold, and paramedics later injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine. He suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital and was pronounced dead three days later.

Prosecutors initially declined to bring charges, but the case received renewed scrutiny following the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in spring 2020. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor to reexamine the case, and in 2021 a grand jury indicted three officers and two paramedics in McClain’s death.

In closing arguments, the prosecution played body-camera footage of the arrest and said the footage showed officers used excessive force for no reason. McClain also repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, yet the officers did not tell that to anyone on the scene.

Defense attorneys placed the blame for McClain’s death on paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec – who are facing a joint trial over their involvement in November – saying in part that they were responsible for evaluating McClain’s medical condition.

The defense attorneys also have argued the paramedics injected McClain with a dose of ketamine too large for his size.

Rosenblatt’s attorney Harvey Steinberg said his client is facing charges because he “didn’t grab the paramedic by the shoulders and throw him down and say ‘do something.’ “

Though the responding officers did not inject McClain with ketamine, their failure to protect McClain’s airway allowed him to become hypoxic then acidotic, and that’s what made the ketamine so dangerous to McClain, prosecutor Jason Slothouber said in his rebuttal.

How the trial has gone

Roedema and Rosenblatt’s joint trial began last month and featured testimony from Aurora law enforcement officers who responded to the scene as well as from doctors who analyzed how McClain died. The defense did not call any witnesses.

In opening statements, prosecutors argued the officers used excessive force against McClain in the form of two carotid holds. The officers then failed to check his vital signs, even as he threw up in his ski mask and repeatedly said “I can’t breathe,” according to the prosecution.

Dr. Robert Mitchell Jr., a forensic pathologist who reviewed McClain’s autopsy, testified the cause of death was “complications following acute ketamine administration during violent subdual and restraint by law enforcement, emergency response personnel.” He testified there was a “direct causal link” between the officers’ actions and McClain’s death.

The defense argued the carotid holds were appropriate because McClain was physically resisting. Defense attorneys also argued there was no evidence the officers’ actions led to his death, an instead have pointed to the ketamine injection.

Dr. David Beuther, a pulmonary critical care physician, testified on cross-examination he believed McClain would not have died if the paramedics had recognized his issues and intervened.

A third officer and two paramedics who responded to the scene are set to go on trial in the coming weeks. They have also pleaded not guilty.

In 2021, the city of Aurora settled a civil rights lawsuit with the McClain family for $15 million, and the Aurora police and fire departments agreed to a consent decree to address a pattern of racial bias found by a state investigation.

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Jury begins deliberations in trial of officers charged in Elijah McClain’s death