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Trial progresses for 2 police in Colorado death of Elijah McClain

Prosecutors presented evidence in the trial of two police officers charged in the 2019 death of the 23-year-old who was given ketamine by paramedics.
Trial progresses for 2 police in Colorado death of Elijah McClain
Posted at 6:55 PM, Sep 20, 2023

Prosecutors are set to present opening statements Wednesday in the trial of two police officers charged in the 2019 death of a Black man who was detained while walking in a Denver suburb. Jury selection wrapped up Wednesday morning.

The selection process began Friday to seat the jury for the trial. 

In the first of several trials stemming from the death of McClain, lawyers for the two sides are expected to paint contrasting pictures of the deadly struggle between the officers and the 23-year-old, who was stopped by police while returning home from a convenience store. He was unarmed.

One question jurors could be asked to decide is whether it was lawful for officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt to detain and use force against McClain, who a 911 caller had reported as being suspicious. If prosecutors can convince jurors the stop was unjustified, that would undermine any argument that McClain’s injuries were a result of the officers just doing their jobs.

Roedema and Rosenblatt are charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent reckless homicide and assault charges in a trial expected to last about a month. They have pleaded not guilty but have never spoken publicly about the allegations against them.

SEE MORE: Internal videos show officers charged in Elijah McClain's death

The joint trial of the two officers who helped restrain McClain during the Aug. 24, 2019, arrest are one of three expected this fall. The officer accused of putting McClain in a chokehold, Nathan Woodyard, will have a separate trail in October. A trial for two paramedics are scheduled to start later this year.

McClain's fatal encounter with police began after a 911 caller reported that the young Black man looked "sketchy" as he walked down Billings Street wearing a ski mask and raising his hands in the air. In reality, McClain was just walking home from a convenience store, listening to music.

Moments later, police stopped him and after struggling with him, put the 23-year-old in a neck hold. Then paramedics gave him ketamine that officials eventually determined played a key role in his death days later. McClain, a massage therapist known for his gentle nature, was unarmed and hadn't committed any crime.

Roedema, a former Marine who is currently suspended without pay, had been with the department for five years before McClain's death. Rosenblatt had worked for the agency for two years and is the only officer who confronted McClain who was fired — not for the fatal encounter itself, but for making light of other officers' reenactment of the neck hold.

They were indicted in 2021 by a state grand jury after an outcry over McClain's death following the police killing of George Floyd. McClain’s pleading words captured on body camera, including, "I’m an introvert and I’m different," drew widespread attention after Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

The grand jury indictment came nearly two years after a local prosecutor decided against prosecuting the officers largely because the coroner’s office could not determine exactly how McClain died. He called McClain’s death "tragic," but said that finding made it hard to prove that the officers’ actions caused his death.

A revised coroner’s report issued in 2021 said the cause of death was complications from the ketamine but also noted that that occurred after McClain was forcibly restrained. Pathologist Stephen Cina wrote he couldn't rule out whether the stress of being held down by the officers may have contributed to McClain’s death.

McClain, who weighed 140 pounds, was given a higher dose of ketamine than recommended for someone of his size and overdosed, Cina found. McClain was extremely sedated within minutes of being given the ketamine, wrote Cina, who said he believed McClain was gasping for air when he was put on a stretcher.

This story was originally published by Robert Garrison at Scripps News Denver, with reporting from the Associated Press. 

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