ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. — Jurors Thursday convicted an Aurora police officer of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault and acquitted another in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a Black man whose name became a rallying cry in protests that led to sweeping police reform in the state less than a year later.
The 12-person jury found Aurora Officer Randy Roedema, who is currently suspended, guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault. Former Aurora Police Officer Jason Rosenblatt, who was fired by the department less than a year after McClain's death, was acquitted of all charges in connection with the fatal arrest on Aug. 24, 2019.
"This is America and it was never great to the nations of people that were captured, enslaved, raped, and murdered for their lands or their labor. 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. America is divided in so many ways, on so many levels, and in so many areas of understanding. If America ever wants to be great, then it has to enforce equity as well as equality that is represented in every law and seat that every citizen is governed by," said Sheneen McClain, Elijah's mother, in a statement to Denver7 following the verdict. "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."
McClain was stopped in Aurora while walking home from a store wearing a face mask after a 911 caller reported a "sketchy" man in the neighborhood that night. McClain was put in a neck hold and pinned down by police before being injected by paramedics with a powerful sedative.
That neck hold, which lasted only seconds, was at the center of the case. But ketamine administration by paramedics was argued by the defense as the “ultimate cause of death here.”
Elijah McClain | 360 In-Depth Coverage
Defense attorneys for the first two officers to go on trial closed their case Friday without calling any witnesses. During closing arguments Tuesday, they disputed the prosecution's assertions that the defendants used excessive force and disregarded signs that McClain was in medical distress. Defense attorney Don Sisson claimed Roedema used "reasonable and efficient force" and McClain died from a ketamine overdose.
"In this case, there is no evidence Roedema caused Mr. McClain's death. Zero. All three medical experts say it was ketamine that killed him," Sisson told the jury. Defense attorney Harvey Steinberg echoed the same argument for his client, Rosenblatt, and claimed the prosecution is using his client as a scapegoat.
Prosecutors spent two weeks painting a picture of excessive force by officers who used a neck hold and pinned McClain to the ground after stopping him as he walked home along a street.
Special Assistant Attorney General Duane Lyons argued during closing statements that if not for the actions of Roedema and Rosenblatt, McClain would still be alive. He told the jury that McClain was in respiratory distress before the ketamine was administered and its use was encouraged by the defendants.
"Officers never checked vitals and failed to inform paramedics of McClain’s condition," Lyons told the jury.
The district attorney initially did not to pursue criminal charges, but the case was re-examined in 2020, resulting in a criminal indictment and becoming a rallying cry for protests against police brutality against Black people following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
AURORA CITY LEADERS, PROSECUTORS REACT TO VERDICT
City leaders in Aurora wasted no time Thursday to react to the news of the verdict shortly after it was read.
The city's chief of police, Art Acevedo, was first to release a statement via X, formerly Twitter, in which he exalted the rule of law and our nation's court system, saying, in part:
“We respect the verdict handed down by the jury, and thank the members of the jury for their thoughtful deliberation and service."
Alec Oughton, the fire chief for Aurora Fire Rescue, said that while the department will withhold all comments until all three trials in the case are ruled, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by this event. The stress they have suffered over the past four years as they seek healing and closure is unimaginable."
Aurora's Interim City Manager, Jason Batchelor, said McClain's death "was tragic and had a profound impact on all of us." His full statement is below:
I know there are deep feelings about Elijah McClain and that today’s verdict will elicit a range of emotions across the community. Irrespective of the outcome of the trial and the remaining two trials, Mr. McClain’s death was tragic and had a profound impact on all of us. I have stood alongside city employees and community members over the last four years in championing meaningful, measured public safety changes while simultaneously supporting our dedicated police officers and firefighters who work tirelessly to keep our community safe. None of that work will change. We will not waver in our commitment to progress. I encourage you to regularly inform yourself on our progress webpage.
Mr. McClain’s death has an enduring impact on our community. I extend my sincerest sympathies to Elijah McClain’s family and friends for the continued heartache of his loss.
I join the city’s executive management team and APD in monitoring public reaction to today’s verdict. We will continue to work together, acknowledging the loss and impacts of this tragedy, to drive the progress we seek.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser also released a lengthy statement following news of the verdict, saying he hoped that it would be "another step in the healing process for the Aurora community and the state." The full statement can be read in full, below:
More than three years ago, the Governor appointed our office as special prosecutors to investigate the death of Elijah McClain after a violent encounter with Aurora police officers and paramedics.
From Day 1, we took this responsibility seriously. Our investigation was thorough, guided by the facts and the law. The statewide grand jury found probable cause to charge the defendants; we then proceeded, as was our solemn duty, to see to it that the officers and paramedics charged with the death of Elijah were held accountable under our system of justice.
Given the number of involved actors and complexity of the case, we knew that prosecuting this case would be difficult. It was nonetheless important that this significant case go to trial so that a jury could hear the facts, review the evidence, and make a judgment. I am proud of the hard work of our dedicated team that put everything they had into this prosecution. They presented the strongest case possible to hold accountable those whose actions resulted in the tragic death of Elijah McClain.
Today, the jury returned a guilty verdict against one of the defendants. I’m deeply grateful for our team’s hard work and dedication on this case. We have two more trials to prosecute, and I know the teams handling those cases will bring their best efforts as well.
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. The people who served on the jury are our neighbors, regular Coloradans who interrupted their lives for weeks to hear the evidence in the case, to deliberate, and to deliver justice. I thank the members of the jury for their service.
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. Sheneen has been incredibly resilient and determined to not let anyone forget about Elijah. I want to thank Sheneen for her strength, grace, and understanding. Elijah’s memory lives on as a blessing.
One of the ways we can honor Elijah McClain’s memory is to continue our work to improve policing and build trust between law enforcement and the people they are sworn to protect. There are many honorable peace officers who fulfill their oaths every day to serve and to protect. Yet, too many times, we have seen people die or be seriously injured at the hands of law enforcement, including when officers escalate situations that don’t call for the use of force.
We must do all we can to prevent these tragedies. We must work to make policing safer, more effective, and more worthy of the public’s trust. Only then will we truly have justice and public safety.
Two trials remain in a case that has transformed Aurora and the state as a whole.
The trial against Aurora Officer Nathan Woodyard’s begins Friday for the charges against him of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault. He is accused of putting McClain in the chokehold that rendered him unconscious before Aurora paramedics administered a heavy dose of ketamine.
The trials for the two Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics — Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper — will begin 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, which officials said led to him suffering from cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital.
He was taken off life support three days later.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE TRIAL:
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
Day 8- Tuesday, Oct. 3
Day 9- Wednesday, Oct. 4
Day 10- Thursday, Oct. 5
Day 11- Friday, Oct. 6
(No court on Monday, Oct. 9)
Day 12 - Tuesday, Oct. 10