In connection with the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, a jury in Adams County, Colorado, convicted former police officer Randy Roedema guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault.
On accusations of second-degree assault, criminally negligent homicide, and reckless manslaughter, another officer, Jason Rosenblatt, was found not guilty.
The first cops to be tried in connection with McClain’s death were Roedema and Rosenblatt.
Following the split decision, Sheneen McClain, McClain’s mother, left the courtroom raising her fist and expressing her displeasure with the result.
“America needs to start telling the truth about its history and changing the way it treats all the people that pay into its systems of control,” she said in a statement to ABC News on Friday. “Don’t say sorry to me for humans that fail even their own kind. My soul still cries out for Divine Justice For My Son Elijah McClain.”
The two males entered a not-guilty plea in relation to McClain’s death together with Officer Nathan Woodyard, who arrived on the scene first, and two paramedics. Opening arguments for Roedema and Rosenblatt’s trial began on September 20 and continued for almost a month.
The prosecution claimed that by using excessive force against McClain, the two policemen went against departmental protocol. The two men, according to prosecutor Jonathan Bunge, failed to defuse the situation.
“When Elijah is on the ground handcuffed, he’s saying over and over and over again, ‘I can’t breathe. Please help me,'” said Bunge during opening arguments, adding that McClain vomited after the chokehold and was drowning in vomit.
According to his relatives, McClain was a kind man who enjoyed playing the violin.
The prosecution repeatedly brought up McClain’s diminutive stature and kind manner during the trial.
“There was no doubt that there was forcible restraint and [you] heard the testimony from Dr. Beuther who said that ketamine is a sedative, but when someone is in respiratory distress they are at greater risk,” said Special Assistant Attorney General Duane Lyons during closing arguments.
McClain was shot with ketamine by EMTs who subsequently arrived at the scene, according to the defense, who claimed that the officers adhered to departmental procedures and training. The EMTs asserted that at the time they were following departmental protocol.
“There’s little doubt that this case is a tragedy. But if you take the emotion out of this case, which is what you must do, the [prosecution falls] woefully short,” said Don Sisson, Officer Roedema’s attorney, during closing arguments. “They cannot prove Randy’s actions or inactions were criminal in any way.”
Attorney General Phil Weiser thanked the jury and highlighted Elijah McClain and the McClain family in a statement he issued after the verdict.
“Today’s verdict is about accountability; everyone is accountable and equal under the law. And hopefully today’s verdict is another step in the healing process for the Aurora community and the state. I recognize that some people may not agree with the verdict, but we all must respect the jury system, which is a pillar of our democratic republic,” Weiser said in a statement.
“We are here today because Elijah McClain mattered. He was just 23 years old when he died, and he had his whole life ahead of him. His mother, Sheneen McClain, has had to relive that tragic night repeatedly for the last five years. Yet I, and all of us, are inspired by her courage and devotion to her son.” Weiser’s statement read.
In response to the verdicts, interim Aurora police chief Art Acevedo also made a statement on X.
“I know many have been waiting a long time for the involved parties to have their day in court,” Acevedo’s statement read. “As a nation, we must be committed to the rule of law. As such, we hold the American judicial process in high regard. We respect the verdict handed down by the jury and thank the members of the jury for their thoughtful deliberation and service.
Acevedo stated that the Aurora Police Department is now unable to comment further due to ongoing trials.
In August 2019, McClain passed away after being stopped by police while returning from a convenience shop. A bystander reported McClain to 911 for being “sketchy” while wearing a ski mask, but the caller said there was no weapon present and no one was in immediate danger.
In recordings from police body cameras, McClain is heard saying, “I have a right to where I am going.”
One of the cops informed McClain that he had the right to stop him for “being suspicious.”
McClain was then restrained by all three cops when Woodyard put him in a carotid hold and forced McClain to the ground. In body cam footage, McClain can be heard pleading with the officers, claiming he couldn’t breathe properly.
According to department procedure, McClain was given a shot of 500 milligrams of ketamine when EMTs arrived at the scene for “rapid tranquilization in order to minimize time struggling.” He was then placed into an ambulance, where, according to investigators, he suffered a heart attack.
The modified report changed McClain’s cause of death, which had been described as “undetermined,” to “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint.” The same as in the initial report, the cause of death was still stated as “undetermined”.
Jeremy Cooper and Lt. Peter Cichuniec, the two EMTs who responded to the call, will be tried jointly in relation to McClain’s death at a later time.
According to a court ruling, Woodyard is being tried separately because he arrived first and applied the hold. The jury selection phase of Woodyard’s trial started on Friday.