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 Friday, Sept. 29 proceedings.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 29
COURT RESUMES FRIDAY MORNING WITH DEFENSIVE TACTICS EXPERT
Friday morning began with a discussion about one of the prosecution's experts, Mark Brown, and what he should and should not be able to explain his opinion on. This conversation wrapped up around 9:30 a.m., followed by a brief recess.
After that, Brown was brought in and introduced as a current employee at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Georgia, Polis Solutions, Inc. in Texas and the University of South Carolina School of Law. At FLETC and Polis Solutions, he helps educate law enforcement agencies on physical techniques, use of force policies and defensive tactics. He also helped build the University of South Carolina's Excellence in Policing and Public Safety Program.
Regarding the McClain case, Brown said he reviewed training and directives from the APD, the Shell gas station footage where McClain had purchased items and was walking home from, the 911 call reporting McClain as a "sketchy" person, the radio dispatch to the Aurora officers and their body-worn cameras (BWC). He said APD's training and directives match others from around the United States.
Defense attorney Reid Elkus confirmed that Brown has never trained any APD officers. Defense attorney Harvey Steinberg added that Brown has never been associated or done anything with any Colorado law enforcement agencies.
An issue with the projector used to play videos in court forced another early recess Friday. Court resumed at 10:35 a.m. once the problem was fixed.
A video was then played showing the interaction before police took McClain to the ground. Brown said based on his expertise, McClain's actions did not amount to violent resistance. He explained that McClain was not seen in the BWC footage squaring up, dropping his bag from the Shell station, or kicking or hitting the officers.
Brown said based on the footage, he perceived that McClain was held in the carotid hold and then was on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back. He was in that position for an estimated 15 minutes, he said. During that time, he said the defendants' actions were inconsistent with the training and directives of the APD as pain compliance techniques, such as wrist compressions, were still used on McClain. As he complained of difficulty breathing in the recovery position, there was no indication in the BWC that the officers were monitoring his breathing or pulse or checking for coherency, Brown said. At that point, eight officers were at the scene and McClain was "effectively secured and controlled," Brown said.
Based on the training the Aurora officers received, if a suspect says they cannot breathe, the officers were required to treat the situation like a medical emergency, which the defendants did not do, Brown said. That includes not just calling for help, but actionable things at the scene while waiting for additional help.
When McClain tried to adjust himself on the ground, Brown said the officers appeared to respond with pain compliance techniques. During this time, McClain was on his side but officers were continuing to put pressure on him, which violates APD policy, Brown said.
When paramedics arrived, there was no communication between them and the officers about McClain's multiple statements about difficulty breathing, Brown said. Once the paramedics decided to use ketamine, Brown said officers were seen in the BWC holding McClain down, including using wrist compressions. Roedema was heard in the footage saying, "He can breathe, he can breathe," Brown said.
The cross-examination for Brown began at 11:41 a.m.
Attorney Elkus discussed what happens if a suspect reaches for an officer's gun. An officer, whom Brown said he perceived as Roedema, is heard in the BWC saying, "He grabbed your gun, dude." Elkus confirmed with Brown that this would be a considerate threat to the officer. A takedown — meaning bringing a suspect to the ground — is a lesser degree of force than other ways an officer could respond to that, Brown said.
Elkus asked Brown if McClain's statement of "I intend to take my power back" combined with a possible grab for an officer's firearm would be an example of displaying violent resistance. Brown said not necessarily, based on what he watched in the BWC, but if McClain did indeed reach for the firearm, it would be considered that kind of resistance.
The attorney also challenged Brown's critique of officers not adjusting McClain's position when he was on the ground. Elkus noted that Brown thought McClain should have been moved to a sitting up or standing position, but Elkus said nothing in the APD's training instructs an officer to do that.
Court then broke for a lunch recess before returning just before 1:20 p.m.
Elkus then continued, asking Brown if he had read through APD's training documents and how there was nothing in it requiring officers to make adjustments other than the recovery position to assist in a suspect's breathing. Brown confirmed that.
Brown said Aurora Sgt. Dale Leonard came on the scene about three minutes after he was called. Elkus commented that Brown had concerns about McClain's positioning on the ground when Leonard was present, but the attorney noted that the sergeant never said anything about McClain being held incorrectly. Elkus asked Brown if he'd expect a sergeant to say something if they had concerns, and Brown responded yes.
The attorney said if McClain was in such distress, wouldn't Brown expect the paramedics on the scene to say something, to which Brown said yes.
Elkus then moved on to discuss McClain's alleged grab for an officer's firearm. He asked Brown to explain why officers are trained to watch a suspect's hands. Brown continued to say that a suspect is likely to use their hands over other body parts to inflict the most harm, whether through fists or holding an object.
Defense attorney Steinberg then cross-examined Brown. Steinberg showed a video of McClain vomiting and noted that the officers had allowed the man to get in "the best position" to throw up and then brought him back into the recovery position. Brown agreed that the officers had moved McClain slightly, but noted this was one instance.
He confirmed that on at least one occasion, paramedics were within a foot of McClain when he was saying he could not breathe.
During a redirect, Prosecutor Bunge said he wanted to clear up the timeline and showed two BWC videos — one from 10:46 p.m. and one from 10:50 p.m. that evening — of McClain making statements about being unable to breathe. Bunge noted that paramedics were not seen in the footage until 10:52 p.m.
He concluded by asking Brown if any officers were ever heard asking for McClain's name. Brown answered no.
PROSECUTION BRINGS IN NEXT WITNESS — AN AURORA PD CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATOR
The People then called their next witness, Amanda Kelsey. She is currently employed with the Aurora Police Department as a crime scene investigator. She was not working on the evening of Aug. 24, 2019, but was called in by her boss to respond to the scene as the main crime scene investigator.
When she arrived, she took photos and videos of the area. After a question from the defense, she said she did not know if anything she documented had been moved prior to her arrival.
Special Assistant Attorney General Duane Lyons asked if she had any other involvement in the case and she confirmed that she also attended McClain's initial autopsy, which she photographed as well.
Court broke for a brief recess at 3:01 p.m.
A freeze in a courtroom camera caused an issue with catching Kelsey's cross-examination.
AURORA PATROL OFFICER SAID HE DIDN'T BELIEVE MCCLAIN WAS IN DANGER
The prosecution later called up APD Officer Darron Dunson, who responded to the call for more help after the three officers initially contacted McClain. He said he was at the scene about four minutes total before he was told he was no longer needed there and left.
Prompted by questions from Special Assistant Attorney General Lyons, Dunson said when he arrived at the scene, McClain was on the ground and talking with police. He said it did not look like McClain could escape. After watching BWC footage, he confirmed during the few minutes he was there that McClain vomited and said "I can't breathe."
During a cross examination, Don Sisson, attorney for Roedema, asked Dunson if the sergeant at the scene — Sgt. Leonard — ever corrected how his officers were holding McClain. Dunson said no.
Sisson asked if Dunson saw what happened that led an officer to say "Stop" to McClain, and he said no. Sisson said the BWC audio then captures McClain apologizing and saying he "didn't mean to do that," but Dunson said he didn't know what McClain was saying sorry about.
Dunson also said at no point did he feel like somebody needed to check on McClain's pulse because he was communicating with officers. He added that he did not have concerns about McClain's breathing.
Defense attorney Steinberg also cross-examined Dunson.
He asked if Dunson became an officer to help others, and if he would have helped McClain if he thought he was in danger. Dunson said this was correct.
During the redirect, Special Assistant Attorney General Lyons said based on the BWC, Sgt. Leonard was not always facing McClain as he was on the ground, which Dunson agreed with.
Lyons asked if Dunson ever turned to look at McClain when he said "Ow," and Dunson responded that he didn't. Lyons asked if that's because he felt McClain didn't need his help. Dunson explained that if McClain was kicking or being hurt by the officers, he would have rushed to his aid.
Lyons concluded by saying that Dunson heard McClain say, "I can't breathe."
"Did you come to his help?" he asked.
Dunson responded no. He was then excused.
Court went into recess for the day around 4:45 p.m. and will resume on Tuesday.
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