NewsElijah McClain | 360 In-Depth Coverage


Forensic pathologist testifies to law enforcement actions in relation to Elijah McClain's cause of death

Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard is charged with reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the death of McClain.
Posted: 1:32 PM, Oct 27, 2023
Updated: 2023-11-03 10:32:57-04
Elijah McClain

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.

Jury finds one Aurora officer guilty, one not guilty in 1st Elijah McClain trial

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. 27 proceedings.

Friday, October 27

In the trial of Officer Woodyard, prosecutors jumped right in Friday to establishing former Washington, D.C. medical examiner Dr. Roger Mitchell as an expert witness.

After the judge and defense counsel accepted Dr. Mitchell's expertise in forensic pathology, cause and manner of death, in-custody death and excited delirium, senior prosecutor for the Colorado Attorney General Jason Slothouber kicked off his direct examination by saying, "Dr. Mitchell, let's cut to the chase. What was the cause of Mr. McClain's death?"

Dr. Mitchell asked to directly quote his report. After review of body-worn camera video in McClain's arrest, photos taken during his autopsy, tissue samples from McClain's autopsy and the scene where McClain was arrested, Dr. Mitchell came to the conclusion the 23-year-old died of "complications following acute ketamine administration during violent restraint by law enforcement."

He made a point to draw a distinction between his determination and that of Dr. Stephen Cina who performed McClain's autopsy and said the 23-year-old died from "complications following acute ketamine administration following violent restrain by law enforcement."

Slothouber followed up by asking, "Do you mean there's a direct causation of law enforcement's actions and McClain's death." To which, Dr. Mitchell responded "yes."

Slothouber broke down Dr. Mitchell's determination of McClain's cause and manner of death into a chart akin to this:

  1. Subdual and restraint caused:
    1. Hypoxia
    2. Acidosis
    3. Aspiration

And the prosecution questioned Dr. Mitchell what caused the hypoxia. In his assessment, he said it would be the carotid hold that Woodyard applied during McClain's arrest. The position he was laying in during his arrest also would've contributed to the hypoxia, according to Dr. Mitchell.
And the hypoxia would've set off his acidosis, Dr. Mitchell testified. The intense physical altercation with law enforcement would've contributed to McClain's hypoxia as well, by Dr. Mitchell's assessment.

The acidosis would've caused McClain to vomit since he said he struggling to breathe it off, according to Dr. Mitchell. And because McClain was struggling to breathe, he couldn't clear his airway like he normally would've after vomiting, which caused him to aspirate, from Dr. Mitchell's analysis of the officer body-worn camera video.

Dr. Mitchell was also asked for his opinion on Dr. Cina's initial report that asthma and a narrowed coronary artery could have contributed to his death. Dr. Cina released an amended report that nixed either of those conditions as influencing factors, which Dr. Mitchell confirmed.

He pointed to a lack of mucus plugging McClain's airways or a thickening of the airway from years of mucus causing irritation as evidence that McClain did not have adult asthma.

Dr. Mitchell also said he could not see narrowing of McClain's coronary artery in the autopsy photos, and there was no scarring on the heart you would expect from 23 years of living with such a condition. Mitchell added, friends and family would also be able to testify to McClain complaining about shortness of breath when he was running if it were an issue, which none have.

The prosecution rested their case before the court took a break for lunch just after noon Friday.


After the lunch break, defense attorney Megan Magdalena Downing questioned Dr. Mitchell about several things that happened medically to McClain at the time of his violent arrest.

When questioned about the acidosis experienced by McClain during the arrest, Downing asked Dr. Mitchell if he would agree there's no way to measure the severity of acidosis from body-worn camera video.

"I would disagree with that," Dr. Mitchell replied. " You can see the effects of acidosis in someone from video. If you're talking about measuring the levels in the way we do in the lab, then no, you can't measure acidosis from watching a video."

Downing then questioned Mitchell that, had the carotid hold not occurred, the acidosis, the aspiration and the hypoxia by themselves would not have caused McClain's death.

"No, I don't agree with that," Mitchell replied. "All of these alone can cause death." But without the carotid hold, Mitchell added," I don't know that Mr. McClain would have died from any of this."

Several body-worn camera videos where they played before the court by the defense to try and drive the point that McClain, who was in the ground at this point, got worse after the administration of ketamine but not necessarily from the actions of the officers that night.

"His cause of death is a combination of all of the above — the altercation, the subdual, the acidosis and the administration of ketamine," Mitchell replied after repeated lines of questioning from the defense.

The court then went to its afternoon recess at around 3:20 p.m. and resumed shortly after 3:35 p.m.

In the redirect, Slothouber focused his line of questioning on what is apparent from a medical standpoint in the body worn camera videos presented to the jury.

Dr. Mitchell replied that the somnolence (drowsiness) before he had been administered the ketamine was indicative of acidosis, as are the changes to his person after he had vomited — McClain seems less agitated and more subdued, Mitchell said — which are indicative signs of hypoxia.

He also testified that over course of the encounter with McClain, there were multiple opportunities for police to help lessen his suffering but "nobody helped him get back to normal.

When questioned whether the dangers of the carotid hold affected subsequent problems medically for McClain, Mitchell testified that he believed the carotid hold was the "initially hypoxic event" that made him acidotic.

"For that reason, it became dangerous," he said.

Mitchell was then excused from the stand and the court went on recess for the day. Jurors were expected to be back in court Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Day 1 — Tuesday, Oct. 17
Day 2 - Wednesday, Oct. 18
Day 3 - Thursday, Oct. 19
Day 4 - Friday, Oct. 20
(No court on Monday, Oct. 23)
Day 5 - Tuesday, Oct. 24
Day 6 - Wednesday, Oct. 25
(No court on Thursday, Oct. 26)


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