DENVER – A state grand jury returned a 32-count indictment against the three officers and two paramedics involved in the August 2019 death of Elijah McClain in Aurora, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, among other charges, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced Wednesday.
The three officers involved in the incident that preceded McClain’s death – Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema – as well as Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, each face the counts of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
Roedema and Rosenblatt each face another second-degree assault with intent to cause serious bodily injury charge and one count of a crime of violence connected to the assault charge.
The two paramedics also face three counts of second-degree assault — one for the intent to cause serious bodily injury, another for recklessly causing serious bodily injury with a deadly weapon, the ketamine McClain was injected with, and the last for using the ketamine for a purpose other than a lawful medical treatment, Weiser said.
Cooper and Cichuniec also face counts of crimes of violence in connection with the assault charges.
Four of the five men charged turned themselves in to Glendale police on Wednesday afternoon. Court records show they had $10,000 bonds set. Roedema turned himself in around 8 p.m. and was released, according to police.
Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said that Woodyard and Roedema — the two officers still employed by the department — and the two paramedics have been immediately and indefinitely suspended without pay in accordance with the city charter because they have been indicted on felony counts.
"This effectively separates the employee from the city of Aurora pending the outcome of the criminal case," Twombly said.
Weiser said the indictment was returned by the grand jury last Thursday after it was convened last December. The indictment is being filed in Adams County District Court Wednesday and will be unsealed.
"We're here today because Elijah McClain is not here, and he should be," Weiser said in the news conference announcing the indictment. "He was a son, a nephew, a brother and a friend. When he died, he was only 23 years old. He had his whole life ahead. And his family and his friends must now go on and live without him. His death is a loss to all of us."
Sheneen McClain said she was overwhelmed and cried when she learned a Colorado grand jury had indicted the two paramedics and three police officers involved in the death of her son.
“The Attorney General [Phil] Weiser, I’m grateful to his team. I’m grateful to the grand jury. They sat through all that evidence when it was hard for me just to get through the videos,” she said. “I’m grateful to everything that they’ve done to prove that my son was innocent. But I’m overwhelmed. I’m shocked and still processing it.”
The city of Aurora said in a statement immediately following Weiser’s announcement that its leaders "respect the judicial process irrespective of the outcome."
“The city has fully cooperated with the Attorney General’s Office and their investigators throughout their work. The results of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office’s separate investigation into the patterns and practices of APD are still pending."
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said she knew this decision had been a long time coming for the McClain family.
"This tragedy will forever be imprinted on our community," Wilson said. "We continue to offer our condolences for the loss of Elijah, and we will continue to cooperate with the judicial process."
“For more than two years our community has grieved the death of a precious life," said Aurora Fire Rescue Chief Fernando Gray. "Our community demanded answers and continually questioned the circumstances surrounding Elijah’s death and we are committed to fully cooperating as the judicial process moves forward. We want to share again our deepest expression of sympathy to the family members and friends of Elijah McClain.”
"Nothing will bring back my son, but I am thankful that his killers will finally be held accountable," said LaWayne Mosley, McClain's father, in a statement provided by his attorney.
Gov. Jared Polis thanked Weiser and the grand jury for their work.
“Elijah McClain’s death was a tragedy and my thoughts are with his mother, father, friends, and family today. This innocent young man should be here today. I thank Attorney General Phil Weiser and the members of the Grand Jury for their work to hold those responsible accountable,” Polis said.. “I continue to urge my fellow Coloradans to consider how we can work together to build a better future where everyone can be safe walking home and a Colorado for all.”
"Our officers are innocent until proven guilty. We believe in the system and we stand by our officers," said Marc Sears, the President of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 49, the union that bargains with the city.
Candice Bailey, an activist now running for Aurora City Council who helped organize many protests for Elijah, said she wept at the news Wednesday morning.
“I cried without reserve with every emotion of every human being that had stood with me over the past year, that led the way, made a path for all of this to be possible,” she said. “…I am so proud to be a Coloradan today. I am so proud of the community that has put its life on the line to ensure that from the least to the greatest, that we are considered, that our lives actually matter, that we are supported in a way that does not make us feel less than human.”
The Aurora Police Association Board of Directors said in a statement after the indictment was announced: "Our officers did nothing wrong."
"...There is no evidence that APD officers caused his death," the union, which represents some Aurora officers, added.
McClain’s death happened after a violent encounter with police on Aug. 24, 2019, as he walked home from a convenience store. The 23-year-old unarmed Black man was put in a carotid hold and paramedics injected him with a heavy dose of ketamine. He went into cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead days later before he died on Aug. 30, 2019.
Former Adams County District Attorney Dave Young cleared the three officers involved in McClain’s violent arrest of any criminal charges and Nick Metz, Aurora’s chief of police at the time, said the officers did not violate any of the department’s policies.
The three officers involved in the incident were reassigned in June 2020 amid protests over McClain’s death. Rosenblatt was later fired after an incident involving a photo of other officers at the scene of McClain’s death surfaced.
Weiser announced in January he had launched the grand jury probe into McClain’s death about six months after Gov. Jared Polis named him the special prosecutor in the investigation to look into “any potential criminal activity by law enforcement officers or any individuals” involved in his death.
No charges have previously been announced stemming from Weiser’s investigation or the grand jury probe.
McClain's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August 2020 against the city of Aurora, the officers and paramedics who have now been indicted, and others.
One of the officers involved in the initial incident with McClain, Jason Rosenblatt, and two other officers seen in a photo mocking the carotid hold used on McClain before his death – Erica Marrero and Kyle Dittrich – were fired after the picture surfaced last year. Another officer seen in the photo, Jaron Jones, resigned from the Aurora Police Department before he could be fired.
The picture was exchanged in a group text and Rosenblatt responded "haha."
Rosenblatt, Marrero and Dittrich appealed their terminations but the civil service commission upheld them.
But the death of George Floyd led to broader attention on McClain's case in both Colorado and across the country last summer and led to protests for months against the Aurora Police Department and to bring justice against the first responders involved in his death.
McClain’s death led to the passage of HB21-1251 this year by Colorado lawmakers, which severely restricts when and how ketamine and other chemical restraints can be used by paramedics in pre-hospital settings.
“Justice is moving forward because the people of Colorado elevated Elijah’s story to the entire world and demanded change and because of Sheneen McClain’s tireless fight for reforms and for Colorado’s first in the nation police accountability law,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, who was one of the prime sponsors of the bill. “By bringing these charges - which include using ketamine as a deadly weapon - advancing criminal justice reforms and passing measures to hold law enforcement accountable, Colorado is making strides to advance the rule of law, improve trust in peace officers and ensure that those who break the law are held accountable.”
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., introduced a bill in Congress that would ban the use of ketamine during a person's arrest or detention outside of a hospital setting to piggy-back off the state bill at the federal level.
“The tragic death of Elijah McClain was devastating for so many in the Colorado community. While accountability for those involved in his death cannot bring him back, such justice is critical to provide healing for his family and the community," he said in a statement Wednesday.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Aurora, said in a statement that he joins the community "in seeking greater accountability and justice."
"While nothing can bring Elijah McClain back, this is a critical step in ensuring that justice is served on his behalf," Crow said. "I stand with Elijah's family, friends, and community who mourn his loss."
The grand jury investigation is one of five at the local, state, and federal levels related to McClain’s death or the Aurora Police Department. In June 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil rights Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Denver Division confirmed they were looking at the McClain case for possible civil rights violations that may have occurred.
"Elijah McClain's memory will live on as a blessing to all of us. After his death, Colorado continues to lead on law enforcement accountability, and in a separate civil investigation, my department is looking into whether the city of Aurora — specifically Aurora fire and Aurora police — have a pattern and practice of violating the civil rights of their community members. That matter is still ongoing," Weiser said during Wednesday's news conference. "We will announce our findings when that investigation comes to a close."
A team of independent investigators in February released the results of their review of the investigation following McClain’s death, which they found was “flawed” and “failed to meaningfully develop a fulsome record”
The investigators were tasked not with assessing misconduct during the investigation but rather to report back on recommendations that could be learned from it.
Earlier this month, another independent investigation that analyzed the policies and practices within the police department, which was conducted by 21CP Solutions, who was tapped by the city, found a small share of officers were responsible for 40% of officer misconduct cases and that there was too much red tape for discipline of officers to be effective.