Denver7 is following the trial for two Aurora officers, Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt, who have pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and second-degree assault in connection with the arrest of Elijah McClain. McClain died a few days later.
The 23-year-old massage therapist encountered police on Aug. 24, 2019 after a person called 911 to report a “sketchy” man walking in Aurora. Officers with the Aurora Police Department (APD) responded and put McClain, who was unarmed and had not committed a crime, into a neck hold. Paramedics administered a sedative called ketamine, which officials said led to cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital. He was declared brain dead days later and died Aug. 30, 2019. A pathologist found he was given a higher dose of ketamine than recommended for somebody of his size and, as a result, he overdosed.
The City of Aurora settled a civil lawsuit with McClain's family in November 2021 for $15 million.
All five people facing jury trials pleaded not guilty to the charges against them in January 2023 in the wake of a grand jury indictment. In addition to Roedema and Rosenblatt, a third officer, Nathan Woodyard, has a trial beginning Oct. 13 for the charges against him of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault. He is accused of putting McClain in the carotid hold. Two Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics — Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper — have trials beginning Nov. 17 and 27, respectively, for charges of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault, plus sentence enhancers. The paramedics are accused of injecting a significant amount of ketamine into McClain, causing him to overdose.
Scroll down to read updates from the Tuesday, Oct. 3 proceedings.
TUESDAY, OCT. 3
Court resumed Tuesday for a few minutes before technical issues prevented reporters outside the courtroom from watching the proceedings.
Once the livestream was back up, Reid Elkus, a defense attorney for Officer Roedema, was on cross examination as he questioned APD officer Ward, who was at the scene the night of McClain's arrest. During cross examination, the defense relied heavily on the fact that officers can’t give medical personnel instructions on what drugs to administer.
Rosenblatt’s attorney, Stephen Burstein, then questioned the officer about what she was doing and who was doing what the night of McClain's arrest.
Ward told Burstein she was told by the leading sergeant at the scene to talk to the person who made the 911 call before coming back to assist officers Roedema and Rosenblatt in McClain's arrest, if needed.
Burstein then question Ward about the moments leading up to the administration of ketamine on McClain, asking her if she noticed that McClain wasn't able to breathe at this point. Ward responded that she didn't have any concerns that he had any issues breathing as she "didn't hear anything that to me would mean a sign of distress."
The defense then questioned Ward whether any of the responding officers had put pressure on his back or chest by the time he was on the floor and in handcuffs, but she didn't recall that moment, only testifying that paramedics were once he was on the ground and were all surrounding him after he was injected with ketamine.
In the redirect, senior prosecutor for the Colorado Attorney General Jason Slothouber questioned Ward if any officers had asked paramedics to check his breathing, which she said she did not recall.
"What I’m getting at is — you’re hearing sounds of distress; why is the word “resisting” even in your vocabulary?" Slothouber asked Ward, which Ward responded to by saying that "due to his movements (at the time of the struggle with police), that's a characteristic of resisting."
A portion of a body-worn camera video was then showed to the jury, which showed McClain "partially over" the recovery position — a position which APD officers are trained to keep a suspect in to prevent them from having respiratory distress — before he was about to be injected with ketamine.
When questioned about this, Ward told prosecutors she was holding onto McClain's arm "to keep him from toppling over," which had already happened in the part of the video that was played in court Tuesday morning.
"He does look toppled over," Ward replied, after being questioned by Slothouber, who ended his line of questioning with that response.
Court went into their lunch break and was expected to be back by about 1 p.m.
After the break, the pathologist who examined Elijah McClain took the stand. Dr. Stephen Cina was questioned about his initial autopsy report and the amended report he completed nearly two years later.
Dr. Cina told the court that in his belief, if not for the administration of ketamine, Elijah McClain would still be alive. He reiterated his findings that he still can’t determine if the carotid hold police allegedly placed McClain in contributed to his death.
Dr. Cina testified that he has never seen a death caused by a properly applied carotid hold or sleeper hold. Conversely, he also testified that he had never witnessed a death caused by a therapeutic dosage of ketamine, which McClain was given.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF CASE:
Day 1 - Wednesday, Sept. 20
Day 2 - Thursday, Sept. 21
Day 3 - Friday, Sept. 22
(No court on Monday, Sept. 25)
Day 4 - Tuesday, Sept. 26
Day 5 - Wednesday, Sept. 27
Day 6 - Thursday, Sept. 28
Day 7 - Friday, Sept. 29