Police officers, two paramedics and another official in Colorado who are accused of being responsible for the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after being handcuffed and injected with a powerful sedative, plead not guilty on Friday to various charges including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
The Aurora Police officers Randy Roedema, Nathan Woodyard and former Aurora officer Jason Rosenblatt, along with Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Lt. Peter Cichuniec made the plea during a courtroom hearing in Brighton, a Denver suburb.
The officials did not speak except to acknowledge they understood their rights.
McClain died on Aug. 24, 2019, following a clash with police after he left a grocery store in Aurora.
At the time, McClain, a massage therapist, was wearing a ski mask, according to the indictment. He entered the store, purchased an iced tea, and exited. Police then approached him.
He had not been accused of committing any crime but the situation quickly escalated.
The three officers claimed McClain was resisting their instructions and forcibly restrained him.
During their interaction, McClain was handcuffed on the ground, complained he couldn’t breathe and vomited several times, per the indictment.
The document said McClain lost consciousness and was injected with ketamine.
McClain’s relatives have since said he wore the mask because his anemia made him cold. “I’m just different,” McClain can be heard explaining in the released body cam footage.
A police accountability law was subsequently passed in Colorado banning chokeholds and put restrictions on the use of ketamine.
A grand jury indicted the five officials who contributed to the arrest and death with 32 counts, including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and other charges in 2021. The indictment came after Democratic Gov. Jared Polis ordered Attorney General Phil Weiser to open a criminal investigation into the case.
An Initial autopsy report concluded the dose of ketamine was higher than recommended for someone his size but his manner of death was still listed as undetermined, not a homicide.
McClain would most likely have survived if not for the dose, the autopsy also determined, though not specifying it as causing his death.
An amended autopsy report was released in September of last year.
It said McClain died as the result of complications of ketamine administration after he was forcibly restrained.
Dr. Stephen Cina, a pathologist, said in the autopsy that he could not rule out that changes in McClain’s blood chemistry due to his exertion while being restrained by police contributed to his death but concluded there was no evidence that injuries inflicted by police caused his death.
Family members and others packed the small courtroom, where they saw the pleas and watched as the judge scheduled three separate trials for the officials.
Officers Roedema and Rosenblatt will stand trial in July. Another trial for Cooper and Cichuniec is scheduled for August ,while Woodyard’s is scheduled for September.
Megan Downing, a lawyer representing Woodyard, declined to comment at the trial, saying any defense she would offer on the allegations would get into grand jury material, which remains sealed.
The other defendants’ attorneys similarly left court without addressing the allegations.
In 2021, the city of Aurora agreed to settle a lawsuit brought on by McClain’s parents for $15 million.
His death prompted protests against police and law enforcement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.