Denver7 is following the second of three trials in the case of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man who died a few days after he was violently arrested by Aurora police on Aug. 24, 2019.
Aurora Police Department (APD) Officer Nathan Woodyard is charged with reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the death of McClain. Previously, a jury found APD Officer Randy Roedema guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault. Former APD Officer Jason Rosenblatt, who was fired by the department less than a year after McClain's death, was acquitted of all charges.
Woodyard, who is currently suspended from the APD, is accused of putting McClain in a carotid hold that rendered him unconscious before paramedics arrived to administer ketamine, a powerful sedative. 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 the 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.
Woodyard, along with two paramedics who have yet to face jury trials, have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them in January 2023 in the wake of a grand jury indictment.
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 Oct. 24 proceedings.
Tuesday, October 24
Tuesday’s hearing began with the People calling several medical witnesses who in some capacity participated in the blood draw and later analysis of Elijah McClain’s labs beginning the evening he was brought into the emergency room.
Andrea Libhart, A UC Health Emergency Room Trauma Nurse, was presented as an expert in phlebotomy, who collected Elijah McClain’s blood while he was treated in the emergency room.
She described McClain as unconscious while he was in the ER and that hospital staff took over CPR and life-saving efforts from the first responders who had transported him to UC Health.
She testified that, as standard procedure, a doctor ordered lab work while McClain was in the hospital and that while multiple labs were ordered, there was only one blood draw with multiple vials of blood collected while he was in the ER at around 11:39 p.m. on August 24, 2019.
She said she wasn’t aware of any other blood work after this initial draw.
The People then called three witnesses from NMS Labs in Pennsylvania as experts in forensic testing. NMS Labs received Elijah McClain’s blood work and performed testing to determine what substances were present in his labs.
Robert Hessler, Jr., a lab supervisor testified to NMS Labs’ processes from when specimens are sent to the facility and the chain of custody that tracks lab work through the various testing stages.
The lab tests specimens for over 200 different substances that can be found in blood and urine samples, including the presence of cannabinoid or ketamine.
Alison Rosengarden, an analyst 2 at NMS Labs, testified further into the testing procedures at the facility including explaining how the testing instruments are set up, calibrated and function.
Rosengarden said Elijah McClain’s blood was one of 80 samples on which she performed a screening and that a test result on any substance found would only indicate if “it is there or not there.”
Finally, Tuesday morning, the People called Rachel Divitivich, another forensic expert and lab supervisor at NMS Labs. Divitivich was the technician who performed confirmation testing with NMS Labs’ instrumentation and testified that ultimately McClain’s test results found Ketamine in his blood.
The proceedings went on recess until the People’s next medical witness was scheduled to arrive in court, which should be at around 12:30 p.m.
FORENSIC TOXICOLOGIST TESTIFIES TO KETAMINE AND MARIJUANA FOUND IN MCCLAIN'S LAB WORK
After the lunch break, the next witness called to the stand by the prosecution continued to present NMS Labs' procedures resulting in the final toxicology report presented back to the Adams County Coroner.
Michael Lamb, a forensic toxicologist has been working at the lab for 11 years and ultimately reviewed the work of the other lab employees who tested Elijah McClain's blood samples and issued the toxicology report.
Lamb testified that NMS Labs testing of McClain's lab work revealed 1.4 nb/mL (nanograms per milliliter) of ketamine taken from a blood draw around 40 to 45 minutes from when the ketamine was injected by Aurora paramedics.
The prosecution asked Lamb if it was scientifically reliable to reverse calculate the amount of ketamine detected in the blood work to what the ketamine in McClain's system would have been at a certain time, like when the dose was administered. Lamb testfied "it would be inappropriate to make a calculation of a blood result and extrapolate that back at what it would have been at a specific time."
Lamb's toxicology report found the presence of cannabinoids in his system, or more specifically, Delta-9-Tetrahyudrocannabinol, but that the drug's presence does not "reference signs, symptoms or behaviors that someone may have been experiencing," he testified. "We don't have a level of THC where everyone will behave the same way. It's impossible to say what, if any of the specific effects would have been happening shortly prior to the blood draw."
Lamb said there were no other drugs found in McClain's blood work.
On cross-examiniation, defense attorney Andrew E. Ho pressed Lamb on potential adverse reactions to a dose of ketamine, which, in a general sense, could include respiratory or heart issues as well as vomiting.
This line of questioning would help the defense argue it wasn't the officers' actions that led to McClain's death, but rather, the administration of ketamine.
The defense also attempted to press Lamb on if ketamine mixed with any other drug, including marijuana, could cause a negative reaction pointing to what Ho described as medical professionals warning against the use of marijuana two weeks before surgery an the administration of anesthetic, to with Lamb replied "not aware of that."
On redirect, the prosecution again asked if there was any pharmacological reason that marijuana would make ketamine more dangerous. Lamb replied: "I'm not aware of that."
Lamb was the final prosecution witness called on Tuesday and the judge dismissed the jury for the day anticipating a long day of witness testimony on Wednesday.
Court is expected to resume at around 9 a.m.