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Elijah McClain case: Information from undercover Aurora PD officer led to removal of potential juror of color

Allison Sherry with Colorado Public Radio obtained the information through unsealed court documents.
Elijah McClain case: Information from undercover Aurora police officer led to removal of potential juror
Posted at 8:27 AM, Feb 28, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-28 10:27:53-05

AURORA, Colo. — Information from an undercover Aurora police officer led to the removal of a potential juror of color for the first trial related to Elijah McClain's death, court documents obtained by Colorado Public Radio (CPR) show.

Justice reporter Allison Sherry was in the courtroom during the jury selection process for the trial of former Aurora Police Officers Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema.

"It started with something that I heard back in September when this kind of happened in real-time," Sherry said during an interview with Denver7. “I was actually in the courtroom the day that this was all going on.”

Sherry wanted to learn why a prospective juror was removed moments before the jury was officially sat. She requested the official transcripts from the proceedings regarding the potential juror and obtained them after they were unsealed.

“The big takeaway is the Aurora Police Department sent an undercover officer to the courthouse during jury selection," Sherry said. “The officer herself, who was pulled into the judge's chambers, said that she was there conducting intelligence to see if anyone was planning on attacking the Aurora Police Department and the municipal building.”

In the summer of 2020, protesters occupied the space outside of the Aurora Police Department (APD). Sherry believes the undercover operation during the jury selection process was initiated to ensure a similar situation did not happen again.

“[APD] did this during the jury selection. So, that's an odd time at a courthouse. There's hundreds and hundreds of people milling around, but most of them are just answering summons in the mail. They don't know anything about the case. I mean, by default, a jury is supposed to be pretty clueless about the case," said Sherry. “There weren't demonstrators. I didn't observe any, you know, protesters or anything like that. Now, the verdicts were a little bit different. Those were packed with people who are interested in the outcome, but the jury selection was a little bit of a different thing.”

Sherry said the court documents reveal the undercover officer was inside the courtroom listening to jury selection. One of the prospective jurors, identified as juror 14, went through a challenge in the courtroom. Prosecutors argued juror 14, a Latino man, should not be dismissed, while defense attorneys were working to eliminate the juror.

“The prosecutors went to the judge and said, 'We think there have been too many dismissals of jurors with Hispanic surnames off of this. And they're all race-based, which is illegal.' You can't just dismiss a juror because of a race," Sherry explained. “They get to juror 14. And the judge says, 'I think you're right, actually. I think this juror belongs on the jury. I think he was dismissed because of his race.' And so they put him back on.”

Then, information from the undercover Aurora police officer came to light.

“Juror number 14 was on her radar because she thought he may have a bias against the police," Sherry said. “There was a court break. She went out to use the woman's room and she said she was in line and she heard this juror speaking Spanish, and she heard him say on the phone, 'I hate the police.' She told a supervisor, a supervisor texted the defendant, Jason Rosenblatt, who was facing criminal charges on this. He told his attorney, and the attorney tells the judge.”

The officer testified about what she overheard behind closed doors, according to Sherry. The prospective juror testified, as well.

“When he was asked also under oath by the judge, 'Did you say you hated the police?' he said, 'I don't recall saying that,'" Sherry explained. “In the end, the judge never did make a finding that that's exactly what he said. The judge did make a finding that the officer seems credible and that you're not allowed to talk about the case at all, not even talking about the questions you're asked, to anyone. And he maybe did, and so it wouldn't be worth keeping him on that point.”

Sherry concluded the information from the undercover Aurora police officer led to the removal of the prospective juror, who was a person of color.

“It was a time when there was a lot of concern that the jury and the jury panel was, appeared to be, mostly white in a trial that, you know, where there were racial tensions coursing throughout," said Sherry.

Sherry said she is not sure if the undercover operation is a typical practice of law enforcement agencies.

"I called three elected district attorneys in the state who didn't have anything to do with this case. All of them said they'd never heard of anything like this before," said Sherry. “All of this is quite unusual that an intelligence officer is conducting an operation in a courtroom 25 miles from the jurisdiction to see if someone's attacking the municipal building.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser told Sherry he could not comment on her story due to pending sentences. However, Sherry said city officials confirmed that the day the prospective juror was removed, Weiser met with Aurora PD and the operation was stopped.

“The prosecutors were pretty upset and appalled that this all happened. We saw that through emails that we got that they were just, like, stunned that there was an undercover operation happening. No one knew about this," said Sherry.

Click here to read the full article from Colorado Public Radio.